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Abortion in Ireland: Public Opinion

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The dysfunctional way that Irish policy-makers have dealt with women’s need for abortion services in Ireland can give the impression that the abortion issue is somehow different in Ireland and perpetuates the myth that it is too sensitive or controversial a topic for discussion.

This is not the case. Women and girls need access to safe abortion services in every country around the world and Ireland is no different. Furthermore, agreeing on legislation and regulations on abortion is always politically sensitive, controversial and difficult regardless of whether you live in Canada, Sweden or Zambia.

For more than a decade, there has been a significant shift in public attitudes towards abortion in Ireland. Opinion polls and research consistently show increased support for access to abortion within Ireland:

- 87% supported wider access to abortion in Ireland and 72% supported the decriminalisation of abortion.

- 69% wanted the expansion of Ireland’s abortion laws to be a priority for the new government (when ‘don’t knows’ and those who were neutral are excluded).

- 73% believed that the new government should hold a referendum on repeal of the Eighth Amendment.

- 66% consider it "hypocritical" that the Constitution bans abortion in Ireland but allows women to travel abroad for abortion.

- 72% believed that the fact that women must travel for abortion services unfairly discriminates against those women who cannot afford or are unable to travel.

- 68% described Ireland's abortion laws as "cruel and inhumane" (when ‘don’t knows’ and those who were neutral are excluded).

- 80% supported abortion at least in cases where a woman’s life or health is at risk or where the pregnancy is a result of rape or incest. 38% favoured abortion access as women choose. 7% supported abortion access only in cases of fatal foetal anomaly.

- Only 5% were opposed to abortion in all circumstances. Of that group, 72% were not aware that the penalty for an unlawful abortion is up to 14 years imprisonment.

- 55% did not know that having an abortion in Ireland is a crime when a woman’s life is not at risk.

- 80% agreed that under international human rights law, women have a right to access abortion in Ireland in cases of rape or incest, where their health is at risk or in cases of fatal foetal anomaly.

  • In February 2016, an Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll found that 64% of people surveyed were in favour of repealing the Eighth Amendment. Support for repeal was highest amongst younger and middle-aged voters, with about 70% of those under the age of 49 supporting repeal.
  • In January 2016, a Newstalk/Red C poll found that 78% of respondents supported abortion in cases of rape or incest and 76% in cases of fatal foetal anomaly. 41% agreed that abortion should be an option in all circumstances felt necessary by a woman, while 48% supported removal of the Eighth Amendment.
  • In August 2015, the majority of Fine Gael TDs who responded to a Sunday Times survey (63%) were in favour of a referendum to widen access to abortion in the lifetime of the next Dáil.
  • In July 2015, a Red C poll commissioned by Amnesty International Ireland found that two thirds (67%) of people surveyed believed the Government should decriminalise abortion. The poll also found that:

- 64% did not know that having an abortion in Ireland is a crime when a woman’s life is not at risk.           50% believed that it is legal for doctors to make referrals for women to abortion services abroad.

- 9% knew that the penalty for an unlawful abortion is up to 14 years imprisonment - when informed 87% disagreed that it is a reasonable penalty.

- 81% were in favour of widening the grounds for abortion: 45% were in favour of access to abortion as women choose, while 36% were in favour of abortion only where a woman's life or health is at risk, or in cases of rape, incest and fatal foetal anomaly.

- 7% were opposed to abortion in all circumstances, while 9% were in favour of abortion only where a woman's life is at risk.

- 70% agreed that under international human rights law, women have a right to access abortion where their life or health is at risk, and in cases of rape, incest and fatal foetal anomaly.

- 65% agreed that Ireland's ban on abortion makes women have unsafe abortions.

- 71% agreed that the criminalisation of abortion adds to the distress of women who need abortion.

- 64% agreed that the criminalisation of abortion contributes to stigma experienced by women who have had abortions.

- 70% disgreed that travelling abroad for an abortion is not especially traumatic for women.

  • In June 2015, a Sunday Times Behaviour and Attitudes Poll found that 76% of people surveyed were in favour of abortion in cases of fatal foetal anomaly, while 70% supported abortion in cases of rape or incest.
  • In April 2015, a Sunday Independent/Millward Brown poll found that 70% of people surveyed supported abortion where there is a medical risk to a woman's life other than suicide. 63% of people supported abortion in cases fatal foetal anomaly, while 60% were in favour of abortion in cases where a woman is suicidal.
  • In October 2014, an Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll found that 68% of people surveyed were in favour of a referendum to be held on whether or not to allow for abortion in cases of rape and fatal foetal anomaly.
  • In September 2014, a Sunday Independent/Millward Brown poll found that of those who expressed an opinion, over 75% of people surveyed were in favour of holding a referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution. 69% of respondents believed abortion should be allowed in cases of rape, while 68% were in favour of abortion where there is a threat to the long-term health of a woman.
  • In June 2013, an Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll fiound that 75% of people surveyed were in favour of the Government decision to introduce legislation to give effect to the X case judgment, which provides for abortion in circumstances where a woman's life is at risk, including the threat of suicide.
  • Also in June 2013, a Sunday Independent/Millward Brown opinion poll found that 58% of people surveyed said they would support legislation for the X case, which provides for abortion where there is a risk to the life of the woman, including the risk of suicide. 
  • In May 2013, a Sunday Independent/Millward Brown opinion poll found that 53% of people surveyed supported legislation that would allow for abortion in cases where a risk to life occurs becuase of a threat of suicide. 78% of people surveyed said they would support legislation that would permit abortion in cases where the mother's life is at risk.
  • In February 2013, an Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll found that 71% of people surveyed supported legislation for the X case.  85% of people surveyed said abortion should be allowed in certain circumstances where a woman's life is at risk. 
  • In January 2013, a Sunday Times Behaviour and Attitude Poll found that 60% of people surveyed supported legislation for the X case, which provides for abortion in circumstances where there is a risk to the life of the woman, including the risk of suicide.
  • Also in January 2013, a Paddy Power/Red C Poll found that 64% of people surveyed were in favour of more liberal abortion laws. 
  • In December 2012, a Sunday Business Post/Red C Poll found that 85% of people surveyed supported legislation for the X case, allowing abortion where a woman's life is theatened, including by suicide. 
  • In September 2012, a Sunday Times Behaviour and Attitude Poll found that 80% of people said they would support a change in the law to permit abortion in cases where the mother's life is at risk.
  • In 2011, a study of 500 established GPs and almost 250 GPs in training revealed that 75% of Irish GPs feel that there are situations in which abortion should be available in Ireland with 52% believing that abortion should be available to any woman who chooses it.
  • In 2010, an Irish Examiner/Red C Poll found that 60% of people supported legal abortion and three in five people aged 18-35 believed abortion should be legalised.
  • Also in 2010, a Marie Stopes/YouGov opinion poll indicated that 79% of those questioned were in favour of liberalisation of Irish abortion laws in certain circumstances.
  • In 2007, an Irish Times Behaviour and Attitudes Poll found that 54% of women believe the Government should act to permit abortion.
  • A 2004 Crisis Pregnancy Agency study found that 90% of 18-45 year olds support abortion in certain circumstances, with 51% stating that women should always have to right to choose an abortion.

Referenda in 1992 and in 2002 rejected proposals to further restrict access to abortion. No referendum has ever been held to offer Irish people the opportunity to make access to abortion less restrictive; opinion polls, however, consistently indicate public support for less restrictive abortion regulation.

Despite much media and political attention on the abortion issue during the Lisbon Treaty debate, independent research from the EU indicated that only 2% of respondents cited the Treaty allowing the introduction of EU legislation in Ireland, such as gay marriage, abortion and euthanasia, as a reason for voting no.

 

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