Poll shows ‘overwhelming demand’ for change to Northern Ireland’s abortion laws

Over 70 per cent believe abortion should be available in cases of rape or incest

Image: Steve Rhodes

Nearly three quarters of people in Northern Ireland support a change to the country’s restrictive abortion laws, according to new polling published by Amnesty International.

The research shows that 72 per cent of people think abortion should be available if pregnancy is the result of rape or incest, while only 15 per cent are opposed. 67 per cent believe abortion should be available in cases of fatal foetal abnormality.

Last year, the region’s laws with regard to these issues were found to be in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights.

More broadly, 58 per cent of people believe that abortion should be decriminalised, so that women who have abortions in Northern Ireland face no criminal penalty.

‘These poll findings demonstrate an overwhelming demand for change to Northern Ireland’s draconian abortion laws,’ commented Amnesty International’s Northern Ireland campaigner Adrianne Peltz.

“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.

If the law was changed in line with the overwhelming wishes of the public, we would no longer force women, who have been raped or been given a fatal diagnosis for their pregnancy, onto planes to England and away from their families and medical carers.

It would also mean that we would no longer see women hauled before the courts for taking or sourcing abortion pills which are prescribed on the NHS in every other part of the UK.

Politicians from all parties in the Northern Ireland Assembly should study these poll findings in great detail. What they will find is that voters from all parties – including those who have previously blocked change – want to see a radical overhaul of our inhumane abortion laws.”

Unlike in the rest of the UK, abortion in Northern Ireland is only legal if a woman’s life is at risk, or if continuing the pregnancy presents a severe threat to her physical or mental health. However, women can lawfully travel to other parts of the UK to obtain abortions.

In Amnesty’s poll, 75 per cent agreed that forcing women to travel to England to obtain lawful abortions would add to their distress, and 71 per cent agreed that forcing women to travel for reproductive care has a disproportionately negative impact on women with low income.

Earlier this year, a 21-year-old woman was found guilty of procuring an abortion and given a three-month suspended prison sentence. She could not afford to travel to the UK and had taken abortion pills obtained online.

Today’s poll was carried out by Millward Brown Ulster for Amnesty International, using face-to-face interviews with 1,000 adults. It found broadly equivalent support for abortion reform across age ranges, gender categories, regions and religions.

Niamh Ní Mhaoileoin is editor of Left Foot Forward. Follow her on Twitter.

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