Northern Ireland abortion: 75% of UK public want government to change law - new polls

  • 65% of Northern Irish public believe having an abortion should not be a crime
  • 78% of rest of UK believe that abortion in Northern Ireland should be decriminalised
  • 83% of Great Britain think women in Northern Ireland should have the same access to abortion pills as women in the rest of UK

First major opinion polling since Republic of Ireland referendum on abortion

Results of new Amnesty polls come as a Private Members’ Bill on decriminalisation of abortion launches

Amnesty International has today (10 October) published findings from a new set of opinion polls that reveal overwhelming support amongst the UK public for decriminalisation of abortion and law reform for Northern Ireland.

Amnesty’s polls analysed the attitudes of the Northern Irish and Great British public separately to gauge opinions about Northern Irish women being subjected to an abortion law that is amongst the most restrictive in the world. These are the first major surveys of public opinion on abortion reform in Northern Ireland since the Republic of Ireland voted to repeal the eight amendment in their referendum on abortion in May.

The results show high levels of public support for abortion law change, with 65% of adults in Northern Ireland agreeing that abortion should not be a crime, and 78% of British people in favour of decriminalisation. More than two-thirds of people in Northern Ireland and three-quarters of Brits – the equivalent of 75% of the UK public - think the UK Government should act to change the law.

There is high support for reform of Northern Ireland’s abortion law amongst people of all political persuasions: 67% of DUP voters questioned agreed that having an abortion should not be a crime and 65% think that Westminster should reform the law in the absence of a devolved government; 74% of Conservative voters think the UK Government should act to change the law, as do 78% of Labour voters. 

Amnesty’s poll of people living in England, Scotland and Wales found that:

  • 81% agree that Northern Ireland’s abortion law should be reformed;
  • 85% believe women in Northern Ireland should be able to access abortion services in Northern Ireland rather than having to travel to other parts of the UK;
  • 78% agree that abortion should be decriminalised for women who have an abortion and for medical practitioners who provide the service in Northern Ireland;
  • 83% think women in Northern Ireland should have the same access to abortion pills as women in the rest of the UK; 
  • 75% think the UK Government should act to change the abortion law in Northern Ireland.

Amnesty’s survey of people living in Northern Irish revealed that: 

  • 65% believe that having an abortion should not be a crime;
  • 66% believe that in the absence of a devolved government, Westminster should reform the law;
  • 80% think a woman should have the choice of an abortion when her health is at risk;
  • 80% agree that a woman should have the choice of abortion in cases of rape or incest;
  • 73% agree that the woman should have the choice of abortion in cases of fatal foetal abnormality.

Grainne Teggart, Amnesty International’s Northern Ireland Campaign Manager, said:

“Our research shows landslide support for reform to Northern Ireland’s repressive abortion law. Every part of the UK agrees that abortion should be decriminalised and that Westminster should legislate for change. 

“This confirms what we’ve long known - that most people in Northern Ireland and across the UK agree that it’s completely wrong for Northern Irish women to be governed by an archaic law that denies them their rights, health and autonomy. 

“The results show that this is not a political or contentious issue, it’s fundamentally an issue of health, human rights, equality and dignity. Voters of all political backgrounds - including Labour, Conservative, Sinn Fein and DUP voters - are backing decriminalisation of abortion.

“This is a crucial moment for women and girls in Northern Ireland. The Women and Equalities Committee recently launched an inquiry into abortion in Northern Ireland, and Diana Johnson MP has today launched an important Private Members’ Bill on decriminalisation, with support from almost every UK political party. We urge the UK Government to give the parliamentary time to enable this Bill to pass.

"The UK Government cannot ignore the overwhelming support for abortion law reform. It must listen to the people and put an end to the criminalisation of women and girls.”

Launch of Private Members’ Bill on decriminalisation of abortion

The two opinion polls have been released on the same day that Diana Johnson MP has launched a Private Members’ Bill to decriminalise consensual abortion in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The Bill – which was drafted with support of Amnesty International UK, the Family Planning Association, BPAS, Professor Sally Sheldon and others - aims to update current abortion laws so they are based on women’s welfare and best medical practice, and to ensure that women in Northern Ireland, England and Wales are no longer criminalised for seeking an abortion. The Bill will be introduced in the House of Commons on 23 October.

Diana Johnson MP said:

Women who have abortions are not criminals and the law should not treat them as such. In Northern Ireland, criminal prosecutions for women who try to access abortion services or obtain abortion pills from the internet are a reality - this absolutely cannot continue.

“It’s clear from Amnesty’s polls that most of the UK public want to see change to Northern Ireland’s abortion law. Abortion is fundamentally a women’s healthcare and human rights issue. The law should reflect this. If we don’t act now, women will continue to suffer under an outdated and ineffective regime regulating abortion.  Our Government cannot sit by and watch that happen. The Ten Minute Rule Bill I’m launching today gives us an opportunity to do the right thing for the women and girls of Northern Ireland.

Polling information

  • The poll of British adults was conducted by YouGov Plc.  Total sample size was 1,746 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 3-4 October 2018.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all Great British adults (aged 18+). YouGov is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by their rules.
  • The poll of Northern Irish adults was conducted through a Cognisense Omnibus Survey, between August and September 2018, with a representative sample of 1,000 Northern Irish adults.

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