Belfast Telegraph

Growing backing for liberalisation of abortion rules in Northern Ireland

By Liam Clarke

There is a clear majority in favour of the liberalisation of the abortion laws Northern Ireland, today's poll shows.

It comes at a time when the Health Minister is intent on enforcing our already strict abortion law severely.

Including Don't Knows (DKs), a clear 58% of respondents said they agreed with the proposition "abortion should be available to any woman who chooses it after being counselled on the available alternatives".

We last put the proposition in our first LucidTalk opinion poll in 2012 to a marginally smaller sample. Then 25.9% said they endorsed it.

This subsequent doubling of support may be partly the result of a number of women who have been refused abortions in highly publicised hard cases, such as fatal foetal abnormality, since 2012.

Allowing a woman to choose abortion after counselling on the alternatives is arguably more liberal than the situation in England under the 1967 Abortion Act. That was never extended to Northern Ireland.

We are still governed by the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act, which threatens life imprisonment for "procuring a miscarriage". Although the courts never imposed such a penalty on a medic, it remains on the books and exercises a chilling effect.

Just one person in five (19.5%) believed that "abortion should not be allowed under any circumstances".

We did not put this precise option in the 2012 poll, but we did ask people if they agreed with a similar proposition that "abortion is no better than shooting a child in the head and should be treated as murder", reflecting a statement made by the Attorney General John Larkin before taking up his post. Then only 2% agreed, suggesting that anti-abortion sentiment may have also hardened since 2012.

The 19.5% who said they were opposed to abortion in any circumstances were not asked to comment on other options which all specified circumstances in which abortions could be carried out.

The remainder were invited to choose as many options as they wished. Some 98% of these people favoured a woman's right to choose after counselling. This was 623 people out of the total sample of 1089 supporting abortion compared to 215 who were completely opposed to abortion. Fewer people chose other options like abortion for rape or sexual abuse of a minor (51.5%), or when the mother's life was in danger (11.4%).

"People chose an average of only two to three options out of five," said Bill White of LucidTalk.

He added: "Some seem to have felt that once they had opted for a woman's right to choose after counselling that included most other pro-abortion options."

Men were more opposed to abortion than women. Some 62% of those who felt abortion should never be allowed were male.

Further reading:

Slim majority supports same sex marriage law  

Politicians do not reflect public's opinion on topics  

Stormont poll: Put this mockery of democracy out of its misery right now  

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