Strong consensus for repeal of the Eighth Amendment banning abortion

But ‘Irish Times’ Ipsos/MRBI poll suggests a legislative line will have to be drawn for any referendum to pass


When the new citizens assembly convenes later this month to discuss the Eighth Amendment, today’s Irish Times Ipsos/MRBI poll suggests, a three quarters-strong majority is likely to endorse repeal to allow abortion in cases of rape and of fatal foetal abnormality.

If, that is, the assembly – as billed – is accurately representative of the population as a whole – the poll is remarkably consistent in showing only small variations by gender, region and age in the strong majorities for repeal. Another abortion referendum is surely on the way.

The poll suggests that some fifth of the assembly will even be prepared to go much further and endorse what the poll question characterises (not altogether accurately) as the abortion-on-demand reality of Britain.

It echoes the findings of several previous polls in the last three years which have confirmed a sea change in popular attitudes to legislating for abortion. While in 1997 an Ipsos/MRBI poll found that only one in three voters was ready to condone abortion if a mother’s life is threatened, by 1993 some 70 per cent were willing to back abortion on the significantly more liberal ground of threat to her health.

Although today’s poll does not ask the “health” question, it finds that 55 per cent would favour repeal to allow abortion in cases of rape and fatal foetal abnormality in addition to the 19 per cent favouring abortion on demand, a total of 74 per cent for repeal.

The combined repeal sentiment is highest in Dublin (80 per cent), among 25-to-34-year-olds (82 per cent), and nowhere falls below the 61 per cent of plus-65-year-olds. Among party supporters it is highest among Fine Gael supporters at 75 per cent and, perhaps most surprisingly although possibly a statistical aberration due to small numbers, lowest among Labour voters (66 per cent). Although the latter include the highest numbers of those who say they would support abortion on demand (27 per cent).

Outright opposition to repeal is strongest in Connacht-Ulster (23 per cent), among plus-65-year-olds (28 per cent), farmers (27 per cent), and Fianna Fáilers (27 per cent).

The poll does not ask whether attitudes to repeal would be affected by the absence of a clear commitment to an alternative specific regime, whether constitutionally or legislatively. The strength of support for repeal would seem to suggest that it could be carried without a commitment, but such an approach would be a foolhardy gamble.

Remember the first divorce referendum! The pro-choice movement, informed by such polling, must now move seriously to find a consensus on the political reality that a legislative line will have to be drawn and where – its failure to do so will leave the field open to wild claims about its intentions and a fear campaign that could scupper badly-needed reform.