Reassurance for Coalition


When the Irish Times Ipsos MRBI poll on abortion was published in February it reflected what was to many surprisingly strong support for the Government’s stand on legislating for the X case. Despite a loud and vigorous nationwide campaign by the anti-abotion lobby, sometimes verging on intimidation, today’s poll, taken in the aftermath of the publication of details of the Government’s legislative approach, shows that the support for the Government approach has been strengthened in the interim.

That will provide important and welcome reassurance for and stiffen the resolve of a Coalition that has been under sustained attack and many of whose backbenchers have been feeling enormous pressure to break the whip. But the strength of feeling and mobilising ability which the abortion campaign has in abundance should not be confused with depth of support in the community.

Support for legislating for the X case has risen from 71 to 75 per cent in four months, with the proportion of those willing to back abortion when the mother’s life is threatened up similarly from 84 to 89 per cent. Only 14 per cent oppose legislating for the X case, while a don’t-know response of 11 per cent suggests a strong public engagement with the debate. The gap between yes and no to legislation, at 61 per cent, is simply not one that is bridgeable at this stage by the no campaign, and reflects the extent to which a real sea-change has taken place on attitudes to abortion in Irish society and in the degree to which Catholics are increasingly willing openly to defy the authority of the church.

Even in the farming community and among the over-65s, where the yes-no majority is at it lowest (at 45 and 34 percentage points respectively), more than six in 10 voters support the Government position. On the mostdivisive issue of abortion in the context of a threat of suicide there is a 23 percentage point majority.

The poll also reflects the extent to which the public may be ahead of politicians on the circumstances in which they would accept abortion.

Strong majorities favour allowing abortion in the case of rape or abuse (81 to 10 per cent) and would not wish to see a mother forced to take a foetus to term if it was not believed to be viable outside the womb (83 to 8 per cent). Only 11 percentage points separate majorities supporting the right to abortion when the mother’s life or health are threatened (89 and 78 per cent respectively).

Voters remain unwilling, however, to give a carte blanche on abortion – what is sometimes caracterised as “abortion on demand” or “social abortion”, and what the poll defined as “where a woman deemed it to be in her best interest”, does not enjoy majority support. A majority of some 46 to 39 per cent were opposed.