Opinion poll shows voters cautious on abortion

Most reject Citizens’ Assembly view that abortion on request should be available in the early stages of pregnancy

Voters do not agree with the conclusions of the Citizens' Assembly that abortion on request should be available in the early stages of pregnancy at least, according to the latest Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI opinion poll.

Voters are also overwhelmingly against legalising socio-economic reasons as grounds for abortion, as recommended by the assembly in April, in a report that then took political quarters by surprise.

Two-thirds of the 99-strong Citizens’ Assembly backed the availability of abortion in all and any circumstances, but less than a quarter of the public questioned for Saturday’s poll (23 per cent) agreed.

However, voters do back many of the assembly’s recommendations that abortion be available in cases of rape, foetal abnormality likely to result in death and a serious risk to the health – physical and mental – of the woman.


Of those who said that abortion should be legal in some circumstances, the overwhelming majority (73 per cent) said that it should be available up to the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Ten per cent favoured a 22-week limit, while 6 per cent favoured no restriction.

The questions in today's poll mirror the questions that the members of the Citizens' Assembly voted on in April when deciding their recommendations to the Government and the Oireachtas.

Complete repeal

However, the responses show that the electorate is a good deal more cautious and conservative on abortion than the assembly. The Citizens’ Assembly, which voted on a series of questions on abortion last month after months debating the issue, heard evidence from experts and advocates from both sides of the abortion debate before reaching its decisions. The poll was conducted on Tuesday and Wednesday among a representative sample of 1,200 voters aged 18 and over in face-to-face interviews at 100 sampling points in all constituencies. The margin of error is plus or minus 2.8 per cent.

While voters do not share the assembly’s views on a complete liberalisation of Ireland’s abortion laws, the poll shows that voters nonetheless favour significant changes in the law on abortion.

This would require at least a rewriting and probably a complete repeal of the Eighth Amendment, the constitutional provision which provides for the equal right to life of the unborn and the mother.

Asked if a “serious risk to the physical health of the woman” should be grounds for legal abortion, 82 per cent agreed.

For a “serious risk to the mental health of the woman”, the figure was 72 per cent. For rape, it was 76 per cent and, in cases where “the unborn child has a foetal abnormality that is likely to result in death before or shortly after birth”, 67 per cent said abortion should be legal.

Foetal abnormality

However, support for legalising abortion in cases where the unborn child has a significant foetal abnormality that is not likely to result in death was much weaker, with almost half of voters (47 per cent) saying this should not be grounds for abortion.

Asked if abortion should be legalised “for reasons of not having the financial or family supports in place to raise a child”, just 21 per cent agreed, with 68 per cent saying abortion should not be legal in these cases.

Asked if abortion should be available “under any circumstances, ie available on request”, 67 per cent said no, with 23 per cent in favour.

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy is Political Editor of The Irish Times