Ipsos MRBI poll: a liberal trend on abortion

The outcome of any referendum will turn on the wording of the proposal and the courage of politicians

Demonstrators at the March for Choice in Dublin last Saturday, just days after Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said a referendum on abortion rights in Ireland would likely be held next summer. Photograph: Tom Honan/PA Wire

Demonstrators at the March for Choice in Dublin last Saturday, just days after Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said a referendum on abortion rights in Ireland would likely be held next summer. Photograph: Tom Honan/PA Wire

 

Less than nine months out from a promised referendum on abortion, a large majority of Irish voters favours a significant liberalisation of what is one of the most restrictive legal regimes in the world. That’s the first conclusion to draw from the latest Ipsos MRBI opinion poll for The Irish Times. And people are anxious to have their say. Thirty-four years after the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution, which banned abortion except in extremely limited circumstances, just 10 per cent of voters do not want another referendum on the topic.

Asked how they would vote in a referendum to allow abortion in limited circumstances such as fatal foetal abnormality, rape or real risk to the life of the woman, 70 per cent of respondents said yes, 17 per cent no and 12 per cent replied “don’t know”. That’s a comfortable majority and one that vindicates those who have long pointed to a sea change in Irish attitudes to make the case for a referendum. Support for that proposal is consistent across all regions, age groups and social classes.

When respondents were asked if they would vote to allow for abortion in all circumstances, up to the 22nd week of pregnancy, support dropped significantly. Just 35 per cent said yes, 50 per cent said no and 15 per cent replied “don’t know”. Some on the pro-choice side will take encouragement from that and argue that a strong campaign could secure a majority for the type of unrestricted regime that would bring the State into line with most developed countries. But going to the people with such a proposal carries the clear risk that we could end up with the status quo.

The Constitution is no place for abortion. But if people are to be persuaded to remove it, or even to amend it, they will have to be reassured that the regime that replaces it will reflect their views. Everything will turn on the wording of the proposal and the courage of politicians. Unfortunately, the behaviour of some members of the Oireachtas committee currently examining the issue – rude, ignorant, diversionary – may be a sign of things to come in a bitter campaign.

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