Melanie McDonagh

A new poll shows there is a good deal of unease with the current abortion law

A new poll shows there is a good deal of unease with the current abortion law
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Really interesting, the new figures about public attitudes to abortion, specifically women’s attitudes, reproduced below and published in the Mail on Sunday today. They suggest a good deal of unease with the current law, an unease I would guess has something to do with advances in pre-natal screening. It’s hard to square a six month cut-off limit for abortions with ubiquitous images of foetuses at 12 weeks looking embarrassingly, palpably, human. They may not be viable – ie capable of surviving outside the womb – but they’re human all right.

On the most important issue, the period during which abortion is legal, there’s a large majority – 7 in 10 women – in favour of reducing the time-limit, with nearly six in ten in favour of a limit of 16 weeks or fewer. Then there’s the large majority of parents wanting parents to be informed when their underage daughter has an abortion – entirely unsurprising, really, and the very large majority in favour of a ban on sex selective abortions – where the principle of female autonomy clashes interestingly with feminist distaste for the practice.

But what’s really striking is that the poll’s conservative (small c, folks) approach to abortion – with a notable bias towards restricting the practice – is almost entirely at odds with the stance taken by most public broadcasters, pundits and parliamentarians. Remember the dissing poor little Tim Farron got online and on telly when it was revealed that he told a Salvation Army journal ten years ago that 'abortion is wrong', though he didn’t want to criminalise it outright. I’d have thought that quite a few of the people interviewed in this poll would have concurred that 'abortion is wrong', at least '…in many circumstances'. You know, I reckon that if Tim had stuck to his guns, and repeated exactly what he said then, it might have played rather well with the public, as represented in this poll, if not with his own party.

But that approach doesn’t really register in public discourse, does it? The pundits give pro-lifery a wide berth as retrograde, one for the Christian Right, for American Republicans, not on the checklist of issues that set the liberal classes apart from people who don’t know better. (Interestingly, the late Christopher Hitchens was an exception to the rule; he was never so iconoclastic as in being anti-abortion.) You get online campaigns for women who want to ShoutYourAbortion, not those who find the whole thing morally questionable. On Women’s Hour et al,you don’t get prolifers discussing the proposed constitutional changes to abortion laws in Ireland alongside those who want change, because the normal rules of balance don’t appear to apply here.

What this poll does is suggest that these attitudes and this approach may need to change, because they’re not wholly reflective of the public mood. The poll in fact is intended to feed into a website called Where Do They Stand, where interested voters can find out what parliamentary candidates have to say about stuff like this. It occurs to me that, with the election pretty well in the bag for Mrs May, people may feel they have a bit more leeway to take other issues into account besides the obvious ones. I’m going to find it very handy indeed.

PS The poll didn’t take into account the circumstance that disabled foetuses – and yes, that includes remediable stuff like cleft-palates, brittle bones and hare-lips – can be aborted right up to birth, something that the disabled peer, Lord Shinkwin, tried to address with a private members’ bill this year. Only a third of people support the law as it stands, but seven peers talked his bill out. There’s way to go on this one.


ComRes interviewed 2,008 British adults online between 12th and 14th May 2017. Data was weighted to be representative of all GB adults.

· Only 1pc want the abortion time limit raised to birth

· 70pc of women would like the current time limit for abortion to be lowered.

· 59pc of women would like the abortion time limit lowered to 16 weeks or lower.

· 65pc oppose UK taxpayer money being spent on abortions overseas.

· 93pc of women want independent abortion counselling introduced.

· 91pc of women want a sex-selective abortion ban.

· 79pc of general population want a five-day consideration period before abortion.

· 84pc of women want improved pregnancy support for women in crisis.

· 76pc of population want introduction of doctors verifying women not coerced.

· 70pc of parents want introduction of parental consent for girls 15 and under to get abortions.