Majority support for abortion in NI new survey reveals

Sarah Ewart has fought for abortion to be legalised in Northern Ireland in cases of fatal foetal abnormality
Seanín Graham

AN OVERWHELMING majority of people in Northern Ireland believe abortion should be legalised in cases where a woman's life is at risk or when a fatal condition will result in the death of her baby, a major new study has revealed.

Ulster University researchers also discovered huge support for terminations in cases of rape and incest, while many respondents were opposed to women being prosecuted for buying online abortion pills.


In Northern Ireland, abortion is only permitted if a woman's life is at risk or there is long-term risk to her mental or physical health.

There was a public outcry four years ago when Sarah Ewart spoke of the traumatic impact of being forced to travel to England for an abortion after being told her unborn child had no chance of survival.

The 24-year-old's case placed the issue back in the courts but the law remains the same after prosposals to legalise terminations in cases of foetal fatal abnormality were defeated in the Assembly.

A total of 16 'legal' abortions were performed in the north in 2015/16, while more than 700 women travelled to British clinics at a cost of up to £2,000 for terminations last year.

The publication of the UU research comes just days after the Republic announced it was to hold a referendum on the issue.

The study found that 83 per cent of respondents believe that abortion should "definitely or probably be legal" in circumstances where a woman will die if she continues the pregnancy while 81 per cent agreed in cases where a baby will not survive beyond birth due to a fatal abnormality.

More than 40 per cent said it should "definitely be illegal" for a woman to have an abortion because she has become pregnant and not does not want to have children.

Earlier this week a Supreme Court ruling on women from Northern Ireland being entitled to free NHS abortions in England was narrowly defeated. The case was brought by a 15-year-old girl from the north who was forced to travel to a private clinic in Manchester for an abortion at a cost of £900.

The study found strong opposition to women being forced to travel to Britain for abortions, with the majority of respondents agreeing "that we are exporting our problems rather than dealing with them".

Professor Ann-Marie Gray, who led the research, said that Catholics were "less accepting" of abortion that Protestants and non-religious responsdents - but that support among religious faiths had increased since 1990.

Other major findings included:

- In cases of rape and incest, almost 70 per cent of Catholics, 81 per cent of Protestants and 93 per cent with no religion stated it should be definitely/probably legal to have an abortion.


- A woman shouldn't be allowed to have an abortion because she felt she had "completed her family" or couldn't afford more children or was "starting a new job", according to more than 60 per cent of respondents


- More than half of the public supported abortion in the case of a 15-year-old girl


Professor Gray said the findings showed Northern Ireland's laws are "out of step" with public opinion.

"Northern Ireland currently has some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the world. Women who are viewed as infringing these laws and those who assist them are subject to criminal penalties," she said.

“We believe that this extremely timely and comprehensive piece of research into a very emotive topic can and should inform the discussion and any future decision making.”


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