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New poll Scots support abortion reform in Northern Ireland

80% of Scots surveyed say limited access to abortion in Northern Ireland 'unacceptable'

More than three quarters of adults in Scotland 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 more than 2000 people carried out last month also found that while almost half of respondents didn’t know or mistakenly believed abortion laws apply equally across the UK.

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 a fatal condition that means it will not 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 Scotland and 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 be less damaging 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 last month 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 International Programme Director in Scotland, Siobhan Reardon, said:

'It is shocking that in 2014 women in Northern Ireland who have been raped, or are carrying a foetus with a fatal condition, are unable to have an abortion.
“It is a clear case of inequality with one rule for women in Scotland and the rest of the UK, and another for women in Northern Ireland. This poll shows the strong support of Scottish people for reform of abortion laws in Northern Ireland. Amnesty International has numerous international examples of the impacts of restrictive abortion laws on women and girls, and it is important that Scotland does not join the global regression on sexual and reproductive rights we are witnessing.

“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 which 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 – abortion laws in Northern Ireland are out of date, and politicians are way out of step with the majority of the electorate.'

Notes to editors:

All figures relating to Great Britain (Scotland, England, and Wales) are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2,106 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 29th - 30 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 Scotland, England, 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% mistakenly believe that laws relating to abortion apply equally across the UK. 19% don’t know if the laws are different or not.

My Body My Rights campaign and NI poll launch

The publication of the results marks the launch of Amnesty’s My Body My Rights campaign in Northern Ireland to change laws, policy and practice on access to abortion.
The campaign and Northern Ireland poll results will be launched at a press conference in Belfast on Tuesday 21 October
To arrange an interview, please contact the Amnesty press office.

Amnesty International Scotland media information:
Pauline Kelly: 0131 718 6687, 07818 453070
Follow us on Twitter: @AmnestyScotland


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