5 September 2011

UK: Poll shows backing for a woman’s right to choose abortion free from political interference

Fewer than a fifth (17%) of people believe the government has a responsibility to reduce the number of abortions, with 70% believing a woman should have the right to choose free of government interference, an IpsosMORI poll commissioned by BPAS has found.

Twice as many people (46%) disagreed as agreed (23%) with the suggestion that it should be harder for women to obtain abortions, in the representative sample of nearly 1,000 adults aged 18 and over across Great Britain. The poll was conducted between the 5 and 11 August 2011.

More than half (53%) agreed with the statement: “A woman should not have to continue with her pregnancy if she wants an abortion”. While this proportion was lower than in 2006 (63%) and 2001 (65%), the number of people disagreeing with this statement (17%) has remained static over the last decade. The fall in definitive agreement appears to be due to an increase in the number of people who state they neither agree nor disagree.

Among those with party political preferences, those who intended to vote Conservative were the most likely to agree with this statement, and the least likely to disagree (59% and 16% respectively). This was followed closely by Labour voters (58% agreed, and 20% disagreed); while of Liberal Democrat voters,  47% agreed, and 26% neither agreed nor disagreed.

Just over a third (37%) of those questioned thought “too many women do not think hard enough before having an abortion”, with just over a quarter (28%) disagreeing. 

Overall there was a reluctance to support government measures to reduce the number of abortions that take place. Those polled in Scotland and the South of England excluding London were the least likely to want government intervention (both 10%).

When asked which statement most represented their view, more than four times as many people chose “It is a woman’s right to choose whether or not to have an abortion and the government should not interfere” as “The government has a responsibility to reduce the number of abortions”.

BPAS chief executive Ann Furedi said: “About a third of women end a pregnancy with abortion. Sometimes a woman’s contraception has failed, or she has failed to use it. Sometimes it’s because her life has changed to make caring for a new baby impossible. Sometimes it’s because there is a problem with the pregnancy. Usually, it’s a combination of complex and complicated issues.  It is heartening to know the overwhelming majority of people respect a woman’s right to make her own decision in her own way when she finds herself in this situation.

“The need for abortion will remain despite society’s efforts to reduce unwanted pregnancy. Abortion is a necessary back-up to contraception if people are to plan their families.

“The decision to have, or not have, a child is personal and private. We welcome findings suggesting that few people wish to see it made more difficult for women to obtain abortions and that there is little appetite for government measures in this area. Abortion is not a lifestyle choice but a possible solution to the serious problem of an unwanted pregnancy. Most people see parenting as a significant responsibility to be planned and undertaken with consideration, not entered into by accident.”

Technical note

Ipsos MORI interviewed a representative quota sample of 953 adults aged 18+ across Great Britain. Ipsos MORI’s Capibus vehicle was used for this survey. Interviews were conducted face-to-face in-home between 5 and 11 August 2011 at 156 sampling points across Great Britain. Data are weighted to match the profile of the population.

Also read:

Measuring public opinion when abortion is a fact of life. Commentary by Jennie Bristow, Abortion Review, 5 September 2011.

Abortion Review topic archive: Abortion counselling

Abortion Review topic archive: Attitudes and beliefs