Abortion: Reform law in Northern Ireland says new Amnesty poll

More than three quarters of adults in Great Britain think it is unacceptable that women from Northern Ireland have to travel to England for an abortion and that they are forced to pay for a service that is free to women in the rest of the UK, according to a new Amnesty International and YouGov poll.

The survey of over 2000 people carried out last month also found that while two thirds of respondents didn’t know or mistakenly believed abortion laws apply equally across the UK, nearly three quarters think the law should be the same wherever you live in the country.

Current legislation in Northern Ireland permits abortion only in highly restrictive circumstances – namely where there is a risk to the long term physical and mental health of the woman. But women can’t legally access abortion if the pregnancy is the result of rape, incest or if the foetus has an anomaly that mean it won’t survive outside the womb. The publication of the poll results comes as Northern Ireland’s Department of Justice is reviewing its laws on access to abortion.

In the rest of the UK, an abortion can be carried out in the first 24 weeks of a pregnancy, with the agreement of two doctors that an abortion would cause less damage to a woman's physical or mental health than continuing with the pregnancy.

An abortion can be carried out at a later stage if it is necessary to save the woman’s life, to prevent permanent injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman or if there is substantial risk that the child will be born with serious physical or mental disabilities.

A similar survey in Northern Ireland carried out for Amnesty by Millward Brown at the same time found overwhelming cross-community support for changes to current legislation that would allow women greater access to abortion in the most extreme circumstances.

That poll found that that more than two thirds of adults in Northern Ireland think women should have access to abortion in the cases of rape and incest. Three in five think abortion should be available in the case of fatal foetal abnormality (ie when the foetus has no chance of survival).

Amnesty UK campaign manager Naomi McAuliffe said:

“It is shocking that there is one rule that applies to women in Northern Ireland and another that applies to women in the rest of the UK. The results of this poll show that abortion laws in Northern Ireland are out of date, and that politicians are way out of step with the majority of the electorate.

“The vast majority of people from all communities in Northern Ireland want laws reformed to allow women the right to choose to end an unwanted pregnancy in extreme circumstances. This would at the very least bring Northern Ireland into line with the bare minimum of international laws and standards.

“The UK is signed up to international agreements to protect women and girls rights to life and health. This should mean all women and girls in the UK, not just some of us.”

Notes on the polls

All figures relating to Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales) are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2,106 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 29th - 30th September 2014. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).

The polls showed overwhelming support across the UK for access to abortion in cases of rape (89% GB; 69% NI), incest (85% GB; 68% NI), fatal foetal abnormality (86% GB; 60% NI).

In England, Scotland and Wales, 72% of adults think laws relating to abortion should be the same across the UK. 76% say it is unacceptable that women from Northern Ireland have to travel to access abortion and that they are required to pay for an NHS service that is free to women in the rest of the UK.

46 per cent mistakenly believe that laws relating to abortion apply equally across the UK. 19 per cent don’t know if the laws are different or not.

View latest press releases