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Irish government should hold abortion referendum

The Irish government is under growing pressure to reform its anti-abortion law, one of the most restrictive in the world, Amnesty International said today as it published results of an opinion poll on public attitudes to abortion in Ireland.

The poll, carried out for Amnesty International by RED C Research and Marketing, shows that the majority of people in Ireland are not aware that abortion is a criminal offence. The vast majority disagree with the current criminal sanctions for women who have abortions, or doctors who provide abortions.

Asked whether the Irish government should decriminalize abortion, 67% agreed and 25% disagreed. 81% are in favor of significantly widening the grounds for access to legal abortions in Ireland.

“It is clear that Irish views on abortion have undergone a major transformation. People in Ireland are now, on the whole, more understanding of the situations women find themselves in and firmly believe that women should not be criminalized for having an abortion,” said Colm O’Gorman, Executive Director of Amnesty International Ireland.

“This poll demonstrates that on the issue of abortion Ireland’s people are clearly way ahead of their government leaders. The conversation we urgently need in Ireland on abortion is a challenging one, but it must happen.

Headline figures are as follows:

  • 64% of people did not know it is a crime to get an abortion in Ireland when a woman’s life is not at risk.
  • Less than one in 10 (9%) knew the penalty for having an unlawful abortion in Ireland is up to 14 years imprisonment.
  • Only 7% agreed that women should be imprisoned for up to 14 years for having an unlawful abortion.
  • Only 13% of people agreed that doctors should be imprisoned for up to 14 years for performing an unlawful abortion.
  • 71% agreed that classifying abortion as a crime contributes to the distress and stigma felt by women who have had abortions.
  • 65% of respondents agreed Ireland’s abortion ban makes women have unsafe abortions.
  • 68% agree that Ireland’s abortion ban does not stop most women who want an abortion from having one.

The poll also found that 70% of respondents agree that women have an international human right to an abortion when their pregnancy is a result of rape or incest, where their life or health is at risk, or in cases of fatal fetal impairment. On June 24, 2015 the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights reiterated this right when it called on Ireland to revise its abortion laws to bring them in line with international human rights standards.

“81% percent of people were in favor of access to abortion beyond the current Irish legal position. This comprises the 36% who believe abortion should be allowed where the woman’s life is at risk, the pregnancy is a result of rape or incest, where the woman’s health is at risk, or where there is a fatal fetal abnormality, and the 45% who would go further and allow women to access abortion as they choose. 9% were in favor of access just where the woman’s life is at risk, the current legal position,” said Bryan Cox, director at Red C Research and Marketing.

“What also struck us is how few respondents declined to answer questions or had no opinion. Clearly people have views they want to express.”