One in five workers has abortion experience – union survey

80% of respondents say women’s health should be priority in reform of abortion law

One fifth of workers have had “direct experience of abortion”, according to a survey conducted by researchers at Ulster University.

The study, in which more than 3,000 union members in the Republic and Northern Ireland participated, highlights workplace issues raised by the prohibition on abortion.

These include costs, time off work, stress and in some cases emotional trauma associated with the stigma and isolation, the authors state.

Conducted on behalf of five trade unions – Unite, Mandate and the Communications Workers Union in the Republic, and Unison and the GMB (General, Municipal Boilermakers) in the North – the report finds 23 per cent of respondents had either had an abortion themselves, or their partner or a close colleague had.


The five organisations are part of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions’ campaign to repeal the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution, which prohibits abortion in the Republic.

Some 77 per cent of respondents to the electronic survey said abortion should be available when the mother’s life was at risk, with 66 per cent saying when the pregnancy was the result of rape, and 64 per cent when it was the result of incest. Some 62 per cent said when the mother’s health was at risk, while over half (51 per cent) said it should be available on request. Some 9 per cent said it should not be available in any of these circumstances with 1 per cent saying they didn’t know.


There were “overwhelmingly” strong responses in favour of legal reform, with 80 per cent saying “women’s health should be the priority in any reform of the abortion law” and 72 per cent saying politicians should “show leadership and deal proactively with widening access to abortion”.

Some 87 per cent said the criminalisation of women who have abortions should be removed from the statute books though views on whether use of the abortion pill at home should be allowed were more mixed.

Almost half (46 per cent) either agreed or agreed strongly that women and girls should be able to use the medical abortion pill at home.

“It is of note that 18 per cent neither agreed nor disagreed with being able to use the abortion pill at home.”


One respondent, a woman aged between 25 and 44 living in Northern Ireland said: “I had an abortion last year and struggled to afford it. I couldn’t get any time off after either as I work as an agency nurse and do full-time hours and could not afford to take the time.”

A man, aged 25 to 44 and living in the Republic said: “Because I felt I could not talk to anyone about my partner and my experience regarding her abortion, I felt I was outcast in my employment, particularly by my manager.”

Among the report’s calls are for unions to “develop policies in dealing with . . . abortion as workplace issue” including providing information about support services; to support workers accessing their employment rights, including sick leave, and, to lobby Government and public opinion on abortion law reform.

“What emerged clearly from the survey . . . was that this is a crucial issue for contemporary society . . . Unions have a responsibility to help inform wider societal views on abortion, abortion access and legal reform,” it says.

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland is Social Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times