Ipsos MRBI poll: abortion, voters and nuance
Very strong majorities throughout society for legalisation of abortion on specific grounds
The findings of today’s Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll on abortion are a fascinating testimony to both the sophistication of the electorate and to the broad consistency of strong support for the removal on specific grounds of the ban on abortion. Very strong majorities throughout society are again recorded for legalisation of abortion when the mother’s physical or mental health is seriously threatened or in the case of rape or of a fatal foetal abnormality.
The poll also demonstrates the extent to which the Citizens’ Assembly – which, one assumes, was initially broadly reflective of society’s spread of views – moved through its own process of debate and listening to expert opinion to a significantly more radical position than the wider electorate. This included supporting unrestricted abortion or on social and economic grounds and the right to abort foetuses which may live but which manifest serious abnormalities, those likely to be severely disabled.
In the latter respects, the assembly’s position would bring Ireland into conformity with most of our European partners. But the gap between its views and those of voters, reflected in our poll, is both wide and real. This has important implications for those who wish to see the Eighth Amendment repealed. Anti-abortion campaigners will seize on such a gap to make the case that any proposed amendment, not accompanied by solid assurances on the scope of future legislation, will create a slippery slope to further liberalisation. It should be noted that such assurances need not take the form of another constitutional amendment. More sensibly they should involve a government commitment to legislate.
A poll published by The Irish Times in March found a 50-36 majority in favour of allowing abortion when a child was likely to be severely mentally or physically handicapped. Unlike the strengthening or consolidation of support for abortion on most other grounds, this issue has seen a hardening of opposition. This underlines the vulnerability of a referendum on an unqualified Yes vote.
Following that March poll, with detailed questions on potential grounds for abortion and clear evidence of support for repeal, The Irish Times faced accusations from within the pro-choice campaign of having an agenda in favour of slow and piecemeal reform of abortion laws and of giving cover to the main “conservative” parties.
Although The Irish Times has supported repeal editorially, the questions were framed in consultation with independent pollsters Ipsos MRBI not to make that case or to undermine it, but to clarify the nuanced approach of voters. The danger is that repeal proponents may jeopardise that very repeal if they do not take account of such nuances. In adopting an absolutist approach, however justified in the context of vindicating the right to choose, the risk is that they end up with nothing.