Northern Ireland: Nearly 3/4 of public support abortion law change - New poll
“These poll findings demonstrate an overwhelming demand for change to Northern Ireland’s draconian abortion laws. This is not a small margin of support for women’s access to abortion, it’s a definitive landslide.” - Adrianne Peltz
Amnesty will hand in 45,000 signatures on petition calling for abortion law reform to the Northern Ireland Assembly on Tuesday morning
Nearly 3/4 of people in Northern Ireland want abortion to be available in cases of rape and incest and when the foetus will not survive outside the womb, according to a new Amnesty International poll published today (18 October).
The results show overwhelming support from all religious backgrounds and political affiliations for a major overhaul of the region’s restrictive, 19th Century abortion laws.
Northern Ireland is the only place in the UK where abortion is banned in cases of rape, incest and fatal foetal abnormality. This forces those who need to access abortion services to have to travel to England for the procedure, and means women are prosecuted taking or sourcing abortion pills which are prescribed on the NHS in every other part of the UK.
The poll also shows an increase in support for access to abortion since a similar survey commissioned by Amnesty two years ago. In 2014, 69% of people in Northern Ireland supported access to abortion in cases of rape or incest, a figure which has increased to 72%. Meanwhile, 60% of respondents supported access to abortion in cases of fatal foetal abnormality - this has grown to 67%.
The polling figures are published as ministers from the Northern Ireland Executive are considering whether or not to introduce changes to the law to allow abortion in cases of fatal foetal abnormality. Minister of Justice Claire Sugden and Minister of Health Michelle O’Neill received a report last week from an inter-departmental working group on the issue, although its recommendations have not yet been made public.
The survey comes two weeks after women in Poland went on strike to protest against proposals that would have led to the introduction there of laws similar to those already in place in Northern Ireland. The movement became known as ‘Black Monday’ and was supported by women around the world who took to the streets of their towns and cities in solidarity. The Polish parliament rejected the plans days later, saying it had listened to the women’s concerns.
Adrianne Peltz, Amnesty International’s Northern Ireland Campaigner, said:
“Women in Poland showed up the fact that for women in Northern Ireland, every day is Black Monday.
“These poll findings demonstrate an overwhelming demand for change to Northern Ireland’s draconian abortion laws. This is not a small margin of support for women’s access to abortion, it’s a definitive landslide. Northern Ireland has changed.
“Not only do a huge majority of people in Northern Ireland want to see abortion made available to women and girls in the tragic circumstances of rape, incest or fatal foetal diagnosis, but they also want to see abortion decriminalised for all women. It’s time for these outdated laws to be brought into the 21st Century.
“Decisions about women’s bodies should be made by women themselves, never by politicians, who should be aware that voters from all parties – including those who have previously blocked change – want to see a radical overhaul of these inhumane laws.”
The high levels of support for reform of Northern Ireland’s abortion laws is largely consistent across all age ranges, between women and men, across all regions of Northern Ireland and whether people are from a Catholic or Protestant community background. For instance, 68% people from a Catholic background support access to abortion in cases of rape or incest, with just 17% opposed. Among respondents from a Protestant background, the figures were 72% supporting increased abortion access and just 16% opposed.
There was also very high support for reform among voters for all Northern Ireland’s main political parties, including for two political parties which have traditionally been opposed to change. 73% of DUP voters support access to abortion in cases of rape or incest, with just 17% opposed. Among SDLP voters, 69% support access to abortion in such circumstances, with a similar 17% opposed to reform.
- 72% of people think abortion should be available if the pregnancy is a result of rape or incest; only 15% are opposed
- 67% of people think abortion should be available in cases of fatal foetal abnormality; just 17% are opposed
- 58% of people think abortion should be decriminalised so there would be no criminal penalty for women who have abortions in Northern Ireland; 22% are opposed to this change
- 59% of people think abortion should be decriminalised so there would be no criminal penalty for doctors and medical staff who assist women to have abortions in Northern Ireland; 21% are opposed to this change
- 68% of people think the fact that in most cases abortion is classified as a crime in Northern Ireland adds to the distress of women seeking an abortion; 14% disagreed
- 75% of people think the fact that women from Northern Ireland who are seeking a lawful abortion must travel to England adds to their distress; 11% disagreed.
71% of people agreed that having to travel to England for a lawful abortion has a disproportionately negative impact on women with low income; 11% disagreed.
In November 2015, Northern Ireland’s High Court found that the region’s restrictive abortion laws breach the European Convention on Human Rights in cases of fatal foetal abnormality and where the pregnancy resulted from sexual assault. The Northern Ireland Executive has appealed the judgment and a decision from the Court of Appeal is now pending.
In April 2016, a 21-year-old Northern Ireland woman was given a three-month suspended prison sentence after being found guilty of taking abortion pills to end her pregnancy. The court was told that the woman, aged 19 at the time of the offence, could not afford to travel to England to have a lawful abortion. The criminal penalty for having or assisting a woman to have an unlawful abortion in Northern Ireland is up to life in prison.
Note: The polling was carried out in the week commencing September 15 2016 by Millward Brown Ulster, using face-to-face interviews with a representative sample of 1,000 adults aged 16+, in multiple urban and rural locations across Northern Ireland.
Full data are available on request and will be published on the Amnesty International UK website, with demographic breakdown by gender, age, socio-economic group, religious community background, working status, marital status, region and political party support.
Photo call: Amnesty International will hand in a petition of over 45,000 names to the Northern Ireland Assembly on Tuesday 18 October at 11:30am. The petition will be received on the steps of Parliament Buildings by Naomi Long MLA for submission to the Speaker of the Assembly.