Poll: Voters would pass limited abortion but block full liberalisation

Ipsos MRBI poll: Over half of voters would favour more limited version of referendum

Irish voters would prefer a referendum to allow a limited liberalisation of the law on abortion and would back such a proposal, but would reject any plans to allow for abortion in all circumstances, the latest Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll finds.

The Government and the Oireachtas are likely to decide early next year what sort of referendum should be put to the people in a vote suggested by the Taoiseach for next May or June.

Given two options for a referendum – a vote allowing limited access to abortion, such as in cases of rape, fatal foetal abnormality and a threat to the life of the woman; or a vote providing for general access to abortion up to 22 weeks – voters express a clear preference for the more limited option.

More than half of voters (57 per cent) favour the more limited version of the referendum.


By contrast, less than a quarter of voters say that they are in favour of holding a referendum on allowing abortion in all circumstances up to 22 weeks.

No referendum

Ten per cent of voters say they are against having a referendum at all, while 8 per cent say they don’t know.

Asked how they would vote in each case, voters say they would pass a referendum on limited access to abortion but reject a referendum on general access.

Seven out of ten voters (70 per cent) say they would vote in favour of limited access in a referendum, with 17 per cent against and 12 per cent saying they don’t know.

On a referendum providing for general access to abortion up to 22 weeks, just over a third of voters (35 per cent) say they would vote in favour, with 50 per cent saying they would vote against such a proposal. Don’t knows were at 15 per cent.

Limited access

The poll suggests that younger voters are more pro-choice, though support for a repeal of the Eighth Amendment to allow for only limited access to abortion is strong across all areas, demographics and parties.

The poll suggests that the public is unlikely to back the suggestions in the report of the Citizens' Assembly for a wide-ranging liberalisation of Ireland's strict anti-abortion laws. This has also been the finding or previous Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI polls.

An all-party Oireachtas committee is examining the assembly’s recommendations, with a deadline to conclude its report by the end of the year. Then the Government will have to decide what sort of referendum it wishes to propose to the Oireachtas.

Any referendum is likely to be accompanied by a legislation published before the vote, though no new laws could be passed until a referendum to repeal or replace the Eighth Amendment, which underpins Ireland’s anti-abortion laws, was passed.

Legislation is being prepared in the Department of Health to cover the various options that the Government may ultimately decide on.

General access

Fine Gael Ministers believe that only if they decide to hold a referendum on a limited liberalisation of the abortion laws will the proposal secure the backing of the Dáil and subsequently the country. However, many repeal campaigners say they want a referendum on deleting the Eighth Amendment completely, followed by legislation to provide for general access to abortion.

Anti-abortion campaigners are against any referendum, though some figures in the pro-life movement would prefer a referendum offering complete liberalisation of the law, as they believe such a proposal would be defeated.

The poll was conducted on Monday and Tuesday of this week 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.

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy is Political Editor of The Irish Times