Public opinion and Eighth Amendment
Sir, – The recent Ipsos/MRBI poll results presented in Friday’s Irish Times (“Poll finds voters would pass limited abortion referendum”, October 6th) found that 70 per cent would vote in favour of allowing abortion in limited circumstances. However, an alternative question found that 57 per cent supported abortion in cases of risk to the life of the mother, rape, incest and fatal foetal abnormality. It is surprising to see such an attenuated list of options. Opinion polls on attitudes towards possible grounds for abortion over the last 30 years have usually included more options – notably the woman’s health and severe foetal abnormality (as opposed to fatal foetal abnormality).
In most of these polls, a majority supported abortion being available in both of these cases. People can only respond to questions that are put to them. If they are not given the option of expressing their views in a more differentiated way, it should not be assumed they do not necessarily approve of abortion in such cases.
The Joint Oireachtas Committee on Women’s Rights in its preamble to the 1988 report on Attitudes to Moral Issues in Relation to Recent Referenda, concluded that, “A person who is called on to answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to a single question put in a constitutional referendum cannot have regard to a range of nuances arising from the principal proposition even if they have been exhaustively discussed beforehand.”
The Government should be very wary of presenting too limited a number of options that may not capture the nuanced attitudes of the Irish public.
Unless these attitudes are accurately ascertained beforehand, any resulting legislation may be inadequate and inevitably lead to further pressures for change. – Yours, etc,
Department of Sociology,
School of Social Sciences
Trinity College Dublin,
Sir, – Abortion is a matter of reproductive healthcare.
That’s why the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment has allocated a significant proportion of its time to the health aspects of abortion. This is the sensible, constructive and pragmatic approach taken by other European states to resolve the question of access to abortion care. Effective abortion laws and reproductive healthcare policies have been implemented in virtually all other European countries. Similarly in Ireland opinions polls over time and by various polling organisations indicate a strong support for abortion access based on the health needs of pregnant women.
The most recent opinion poll on abortion published by The Irish Times excludes a specific question on best medical practice.
The poll asked for people’s views on three options. Two of these are highly restrictive, unworkable in practice and harmful to women’s health: ie maintaining the status quo or allowing abortion only in cases of rape, fatal foetal anomaly and threat to life of the woman.
The poll ignored most of the options recommended by the Citizens’ Assembly, which voted, for example, by 78 per cent for abortion in cases of risk to a woman’s health, 72 per cent for socio-economic reasons and by 64 per cent for access to abortion without restriction before 12 weeks gestation.
The poll also failed to reflect the prevailing reproductive health policy approaches in most other European countries.
In presenting an unworkable and restrictive minimum-grounds approach on the one hand, and the option of abortion up to 22 weeks on the other, as the only potential policy solutions post-repeal, the poll does the public a disservice at a decisive moment for the advancement of women’s reproductive health.
Despite the astute Irish Times editorial analysis, the Irish Family Planning Association’s concern as a healthcare provider is that the poll will serve the interests of those who would put political convenience before the care of pregnant women. – Yours, etc,
Director of Advocacy