Northern Ireland’s Citizens Want Abortion Decriminalized, According To Poll

Grace Carr | Reporter

A majority of Northern Irish want abortion decriminalized, according to a Wednesday Amnesty International UK joint poll.

Sixty-five percent of adults in Northern Ireland think abortion should not be a crime, and 78 percent of adults in Britain think abortion should be decriminalized, putting the U.K. at 75 percent who think abortion services should be legal. Eighty-three percent of Brits also think women in Northern Ireland should have access to abortion pills.

Abortion has been illegal in Northern Ireland since 1861 under the Offences Against the Person Act.

Political affiliation did not largely affect the opinions of survey participants, with 74 percent of Conservative voters and 78 percent of Labour voters affirming that abortion should be legal.

Eighty percent of Northern Irish also believe women should be able to abort in cases of rape, incest, or where the mother’s life is at risk, according to the poll. Seventy-three percent said a woman should be allowed to have an abortion when the child will be born with a fatal foetal abnormality.

“Our research shows landslide support for reform to Northern Ireland’s repressive abortion law,” said Amnesty International’s Northern Ireland Campaign Manager, Grainne Teggart. “Most people in Northern Ireland and across the UK agree that it’s completely wrong for Northern Irish women to be governed by an archaic law that denies them their rights, health and autonomy.”

The poll is the first large opinion survey since Ireland voted to legalize abortion on May 26.

Northern Ireland, however, operates under a different governing body than the rest of Ireland, and following a power-sharing debacle that left the government without an executive in January 2017, British officials have been assuming authority to make major decisions for the region while its governing body remains uncertain.

Following Ireland’s vote to legalize abortion by repealing the Eight Amendment, abortion advocates have called for British Prime Minister Theresa May to act as Northern Ireland’s executive to legalize abortion. May has insisted that she won’t decide where the Northern Ireland government should legalize. (RELATED: Britain’s May Refuses To Loosen Northern Ireland’s Abortion Rules)

Northern Ireland’s elected assembly can choose to align with Britain’s abortion laws that permit women to abort their unborn children until 24 weeks in pregnancy, but the assembly voted against doing so in February 2016. There hasn’t been another vote since the government’s collapse in 2017, Reuters reported.

Roughly 140 members of Parliament have indicated they would support an amendment to legalize abortion in Northern Ireland, The Irish News reported in late May.

Labour Party politician Diana Ruth Johnson launched a bill Wednesday to decriminalize abortion in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, according to Amnesty International UK.

YouGov surveyed 1,746 British adults online between Oct. 3 and 4. Cognisense Omnibus Survey polled 1,000 Northern Irish adults between August and September.

Northern Ireland is one of the few European regions that still bans abortions.

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