Big rise in support for legislation on abortion


Fifteen years on and this survey shows radical changes in opinion on the most divisive of issues

A major change in the public’s opinion concerning abortion has occurred over the last 15 years, according to the latest Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll.

Back in December 1997 an Irish Times survey showed just 23 per cent were in favour of allowing the Oireachtas legislate to bring the law on abortion into line with decisions made in the courts.

That figure has now risen to 71 per cent in today’s poll, with just 11 per cent of voters opposed to the Government’s decision to legislate.

The change was even more dramatic when people were asked about their views on whether abortion should be permitted in any circumstances. And, if so, in what kind of circumstances it should be allowed.

In 1997, 18 per cent of voters said abortion should not be permitted in any circumstances. At that time 35 per cent were in favour when a mother’s life was at risk with just 14 per cent in favour where a mother’s health was at risk.

Striking change

In the latest poll the number saying that abortion should not be permitted in any circumstances has declined to 12 per cent. The striking change has come about in the numbers who believe that abortion should be allowed in certain circumstances.

Now the number who say that abortion should be allowed when a mother’s life is at risk has more than doubled to 84 per cent, compared to 1997.

There is an even more dramatic increase in the numbers who say it should be permitted where a woman’s health is at risk – with 70 per cent now taking that view compared to 14 per cent in 1997.

In the latest survey there were also substantial majorities for the proposition that abortion should be permitted in cases where the foetus is not capable of surviving outside the womb (79 per cent), and in cases of rape or incest (78 per cent).

A majority drew the line at the notion that abortion should be permitted where a woman deems it to be in her best interest. Just 37 per cent took this view. There was a gender difference on this question, with 40 per cent of women saying it should be freely available and 34 per cent of men taking that view.

In party political terms, there was no significant difference between the supporters of the four main parties with Labour voters marginally the most liberal and Fianna Fáil voters tending to be a little more conservative on the circumstances in which abortion should be allowed.

There were some striking differences on these questions from people of different ages.

Support for legislation

Those over 65 were less inclined to say that abortion should be permitted in cases of rape or incest, foetal unviability and a threat to health than people in younger age groups.

Those in the 35 to 49 age group were the most strongly in favour of permitting abortion in these circumstances.

The evidence of the poll is that there is strong backing for the Government’s plan to legislate for abortion in the limited circumstances where a mother’s life is in danger, including the risk of suicide.

There is strong backing for this not only from Coalition supporters but from Opposition parties and supporters of Independents and smaller parties as well.

Voters also favour availability of abortion in several other specified circumstances which will not be covered by the Government’s measure.

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