The Department of Justice have opened the public consultation on three specific changes to Northern Ireland’s abortion. Northern Ireland’s legislation in this area is very restricted with compared with the rest of the United Kingdom and for a long time there has been little political enthusiasm to change it.
Public sentiment has softened over the years, but most parties have been keen to keep their conservative position.
This morning, under the banner of their My Body My Rights campaign, Amnesty NI published research commissioned from Millward Brown Ulster that surveyed over a thousand people across NI to find out their views on the three specific changes that DOJ are consulting on.
The headline figures show that a majority think that the law in Northern Ireland should make access to abortion available where the pregnancy is the result of rape (69%), the result of incest (68%), or where the foetus has a fatal abnormality (60%).
At their launch event, Amnesty’s Grainne Teggart was joined by Breedagh Hughes (Royal College of Midwives), Audrey Simpson (Family Planning Association) and Mara Clarke (Abortion Support Network). I quickly spoke to Grainne and Breedagh after the launch.
No matter how the statistics were sliced – by gender, age, social class, political preference or denomination – over 50% support the legislative changes. Support for abortion to be available if there is a fatal foetal abnormality is a little lower than pregnancy as the result of incest or rape, particularly amongst respondents identifying as catholic and nationalist. (Rounding explains why the whole number percentages don’t all add up to 100%.)
Discussion at the event included consideration of medical professionals (whose personal beliefs may curtail their participation in abortion) as well as mothers’ rights to be well informed, the avoidable trauma of travel to England for some women and the practice of resorting to unregulated abortion tablets.
The public consultation closes on 17 January 2015. While politicians are keen for public support when they’re seeking election, they are – somewhat understandably so – less keen to be swayed by public feeling when it comes to individual issues. However, today’s statistics certainly put down a marker that shows that most political parties are well out of step in terms of representing the breadth and scale of public support for abortion provision in Northern Ireland.