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08th Jul 2015

Two-Thirds of Irish People Want to See Abortion Decriminalised  

The majority of people in Ireland are not aware that abortion is a criminal offence

The Irish Government is under growing pressure to reform its anti-abortion law, one of the most restrictive in the world, Amnesty International said today as it published results of an opinion poll on public attitudes to abortion in Ireland. 

The poll, carried out for Amnesty International by RED C Research and Marketing, shows that the majority of people in Ireland are not aware that abortion is a criminal offence. The vast majority disagree with the current criminal sanctions for women who have abortions – or doctors who provide abortions.

Asked whether the Irish Government should decriminalise abortion, 67 per cent agreed and 25 per cent disagreed. In addition, 81 per cent are in favour of significantly widening the grounds for legal abortion access in Ireland.

Colm O’Gorman, Executive Director of Amnesty International Ireland said:

“It is clear that Irish views on abortion have undergone a major transformation. People in Ireland are now, on the whole, more understanding of the situations women find themselves in and firmly believe that women should not be criminalised for having an abortion.

“Only a third of Irish people polled were aware that it is a criminal offence for a woman to access abortion here unless her life is at risk. Even with the long debate over Ireland’s 2013 abortion law, less than one in 10 were aware that a woman who has an abortion could face a 14-year prison sentence.

“This poll demonstrates that on the issue of abortion Ireland’s people are clearly way ahead of their government leaders. The conversation we urgently need in Ireland on abortion is a challenging one, but it must happen. The Irish Government should put this issue to the people as a matter of priority. Decriminalising abortion is not only a human rights obligation – it is what people in Ireland want. And this means repealing the 8th Amendment.”

People aged 65 or over were the least aware that abortion is a criminal offence (82 per cent). Those aged over 55 disagreed most with the possible 14 year jail term for women. Colm O’Gorman said: “This age group tends to be the least in favour of widening access to abortion, but clearly they have even greater awareness of the brutality of this penalty.”

·         64 per cent of people did not know it is a crime to get an abortion in Ireland when a woman’s life is not at risk.

·         Less than one in 10 (9 per cent) knew the penalty for having an unlawful abortion in Ireland is up to 14 years imprisonment.

·         Only 7 per cent agreed that women should be imprisoned for up to 14 years for having an unlawful abortion.

·         Only 13 per cent of people agreed that doctors should be imprisoned for up to 14 years for performing an unlawful abortion.

·         71 per cent agreed that classifying abortion as a crime contributes to the distress and stigma felt by women who have had abortions.

·         65 per cent of respondents agreed Ireland’s abortion ban makes women have unsafe abortion.

·         68 per cent agree that Ireland’s abortion ban does not stop most women who want an abortion from having one.

The poll also found that 70 per cent of respondents agreed that women have an international human right to an abortion when their pregnancy is a result of rape or incest, where their life or health is at risk, or in cases of fatal foetal impairment

“In response to our campaign, we have seen efforts by some to deny and undermine the human rights of women and girls. It is heartening to see that 70 per cent of people in Ireland know that women have a human right to abortion in circumstances far beyond when they might die,” said Colm O’ Gorman.

The poll also asked respondents for their personal views on when access to abortion should be provided in Ireland. The polling results were then cross-compared across these groups.

Bryan Cox, Director at Red C Research and Marketing said: “81 percent of people were in favour of access to abortion beyond the current Irish legal position. This comprises the 36 per cent who believe abortion should be allowed where the woman’s life is at risk, the pregnancy is a result of rape or incest, where the woman’s health is at risk, or where there is a fatal foetal abnormality, and the 45 per cent who would go further and allow women to access abortion as they choose. Nine per cent were in favour of access just where the woman’s life is at risk, the current legal position.

“What also struck us is how few respondents declined to answer questions or had no opinion. Clearly people have views they want to express.”

Mr O’Gorman said: “Only 7 per cent of those polled are opposed to abortion in all circumstances. Yet even in this group, only 31 per cent agreed with the 14 year possible jail sentence for women having unlawful abortions, and only 43 per cent with the possible 14 year jail term for doctors. So even those with the strongest personal opposition to abortion are opposed to Ireland’s harsh criminal penalty.”