Irish public want expanded access to abortion to be a political priority for incoming government

People in Ireland have made clear that the incoming government must make expanding access to abortion a priority, Amnesty International said today as it published the results of an opinion poll on attitudes to abortion in Ireland. The poll, carried out by RED C Research and Marketing, shows that a considerable majority of people in Ireland (63%) believe that Irish politicians should show leadership and deal proactively with widening access to abortion in Ireland.

The poll, part of which was run in the final days of the general election campaign, found that the overwhelming majority of people in Ireland want access to abortion expanded (87%) and abortion decriminalised (72%). When ‘don’t knows’ and those who were neutral were excluded, 69% want this to be one of the incoming government’s priorities. Interestingly, on many questions, there were progressive views on abortion across all regions and socio-economic groups. 80% of respondents believe that women’s health must be the priority in any reform of Ireland’s abortion law. This view was most strongly supported among farmers (90%) and people in Connaught/Ulster (85%). With rare exceptions, gender does not play a significant role in people’s opinion.

Furthermore, a large majority (66%) consider it “hypocritical” that the Constitution bans abortion here but allows women to travel abroad for one. 72% believe that the fact that women must travel for abortions unfairly discriminates against those who cannot afford to or are unable to travel. 55% described Ireland’s abortion laws as “cruel and inhumane”, rising to 68% when the ‘don’t knows’ and those who are neutral are excluded.

“This poll demonstrates yet again, that on the issue of abortion, Ireland’s people are way ahead of their political leaders. Almost three-quarters of respondents (73%) believe the government should hold a referendum to allow people an opportunity to vote on whether or not to remove the Eighth Amendment. In most instances, our polling found substantial support for expanding access to abortion across all parts of Ireland – for instance, support for decriminalising abortion is highest in Munster (75% compared to national average of 71%),” said Colm O’Gorman, Executive Director of Amnesty International Ireland.

“Despite the dishonest efforts of many opposed to reform, the poll found that 80% of people are aware that women have a right to access abortion in certain circumstances under international human rights law. This is an increase of 10% on polling we ran in 2015.The incoming government cannot ignore the fact that the vast majority of Irish people want women’s human rights to be respected. It must prioritise the expansion of access to abortion in Ireland without delay.

“This poll reveals that, far from this being a divisive issue as some suggest, people in Ireland are clear and solid in their support of increased access to abortion. There is an evidently broad consensus on the urgent need to reform Ireland’s restrictive abortion laws. This is true across all demographics and regions. It is time for our newly elected legislators to recognise this reality, move beyond the myth of a divided society on this issue and legislate to respect rights of women and girls,” said Colm O’Gorman.
Public awareness and trust

Respondents were asked whom they trust as a source of information when deciding their position on abortion. The most trusted sources of information were medical professionals (69%) and women who have had abortions (62%). The least trusted were politicians (7%), media outlets (14%), anti-abortion groups (16%) and church leaders (16%). 52% of respondents feel they do not know enough about the Eighth Amendment to know how they would vote and would like the media to give more information on it. This view is particularly pronounced outside of Dublin. The poll also found a substantial lack of awareness in several areas. For instance, only 14% of respondents were aware that having an abortion when the woman’s life is not in danger is a criminal offence which carries a potential 14 year prison sentence. Of the 5% of people who are opposed to abortion in all circumstances, 77% are not aware that this 14 year criminal penalty exists.

“Given the failure of successive Irish governments to implement meaningful reform of Ireland’s abortion law, it is perhaps unsurprising then that our poll found that just 7% of respondents trust politicians to inform them on this issue. On a separate question as to whether we should trust women when they say they need an abortion regardless of the circumstances, 68% of respondents agreed we should. It is time for an Irish government to start trusting Irish women to make decisions about their reproductive lives,” said Colm O’Gorman.

“The poll found that 87% of respondents are in favour of expanding access to abortion in Ireland. Of these, only 7% want expanded access limited to fatal foetal abnormalities. A very substantial 80% want access at least in cases where a woman’s life or health is at risk or where the pregnancy is as a result of rape or incest, including 38% of these in favour of access as women choose. Only 5% of people are opposed to abortion in all circumstances. Interestingly, just 1% of respondents declined to answer or had no opinion suggesting that the Irish public has strong views on the issue,” said Richard Colwell, Managing Director of Red C Research and Marketing.

Role of religion

Contrary to what might have been assumed, people’s religion does not significantly impact on their views on abortion. In fact, 82% of those who consider themselves religious agreed that their religious views should not be imposed on others. Only one in five people (20%) who consider themselves to be religious say that they have “very conflicted” views on abortion because of their religion. Strikingly, 13% of those opposed to abortion in all circumstances shared this view. 28% of those who favour some expansion to abortion access agreed that they hide it because of their perception of how people who share their religion would feel about them.