Majority look for abortion legislation
This month’s poll has been heavily influenced by the debate on abortion in Ireland, brought about by the death of Savita Halappanavar. There is little doubt that the dramatic decline in the Fine Gael vote, down 6% in just one month, has been underpinned by the apparent reluctance of Fine Gael TD’s, as far as the public are concerned, to act on the abortion issue. This is reinforced by the fact that the main beneficiaries of the publics support have been Independent candidates, who have gained 4% share, on the back of the most vocal support for immediate action on the issue, with Clare Daly leading the challenge against the government.
To help understand the impact of the abortion debate, today’s poll provides a clear measure of the public’s own views on the abortion legislation issue. We put a series of legislation options on abortion to our representative sample of the population, and asked them for each if they either supported or did not support the statement. We were careful in how we constructed the question, in order to ensure an unbiased and accurate response, by making sure that respondents understood it was only their opinion that we were interested in, with no right or wrong answers.
The first position we put to the public was to legislate for the X case, in so doing we explained that this meant allowing for abortion where the mothers life is threatened, including by suicide. Legislation for the X case was resoundingly supported by almost all voters (85%), and this level of support was consistent across all demographic groups and regions. Just 1 in 10 (10%) did not support the legislation of the X case, with 5% undecided. A clear signal to the Fine Gael TD’s who have expressed concerns about including suicide as part of any legal decision.
We then went on to see if voters would be more or less supportive, to either limit or extend the X case position. Firstly we asked if voters would support or not support a constitutional amendment to “limit” the X case; by excluding the threat of suicide, but allowing abortion where the mother’s life is threatened outside of suicide. Only 63% of voters supported this position, with 31% against and 6% undecided. Bearing in mind the much higher support for the X case itself, it is clear that voters do not want to limit it, and a further clear sign that voters prefer to see suicide remain as part of the legal position.
Next we asked if voters supported or not a constitutional amendment to “extend” the right to abortion to all cases where the health of the mother is seriously threatened, and also in cases of rape. While voters had appeared less happy to limit the X case, they were much more supportive to further extend it. In fact the great majority of voters (82%) supported its extension to include cases of rape, almost the same number as supported the legalised X case position in the first place, with 13% opposed and 5% undecided. Support for this position was over 80% in almost all demographic groups, with only those aged over 65 and those in Munster giving lower levels of support.
We finally asked if voters would support or not support a constitutional amendment to allow for abortion in ANY case where a woman requests it. This was seen to be a step too far by the majority of voters, with only just over a third (36%) supporting this position, while 58% opposed it, and 6% were undecided. Support was somewhat different by demographic groups, with stronger support seen among those under 35 and those living in Dublin and the Rest of Leinster, but even here support was less than half of all voters.
Today’s poll then provides a clear measure of voter attitudes towards the abortion issue, with strong support for legislation up to and including rape cases, but not for abortion on demand. The impact on vote intentions suggests that the government needs to move quickly and decisively, to act upon the wishes of the public, before it damages them in the long term.
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