Our poll on abortion published today shows that this is a highly divisive social issue.
Virtually the same number of people said that a termination should be available to any woman who wants it after counselling as said that it should only be available if the woman was likely to die if the pregnancy continued. Keeping the law as it stands was also strongly favoured, but a smaller proportion of those polled agreed with the proposition that abortion should be available in cases of pregnancies due to incest or rape, which are not grounds for terminations at present.
The poll's findings are at sharp variance to the views often expressed by MLAs at Stormont who adopt the most conservative stance in most cases and have managed to do nothing to change or clarify the law to date. While there is undoubted opposition to any liberalisation of existing abortion laws here, the poll shows that very significant numbers of people on the street hold much more liberal views than is commonly supposed. Certainly the politicians do not reflect the range of views expressed in the survey.
Health Minister Edwin Poots is on record as saying he would like to close the Marie Stopes abortion clinic which operates with the current legislation. That may be his deeply held personal opinion and the opinion of a certain section of the population, but according to the poll, would not be in accordance with the wishes of the majority of people here. Northern Ireland is a much more diverse place than it is often given credit for.
Politicians should also note that young people and women hold the strongest views for liberalising our abortion laws. These are an important part of any politician's constituency and they will rapidly lose faith in the political process if they feel that their views are being ignored.
Already it is evident that many people do not vote for that very reason, they feel the politicians take no heed of them, especially on divisive social issues like abortion. MLAs may feel they are playing safe by doing nothing on abortion, but this poll should be a wake-up call to them.