There’s a long way to go.
Photo by eberhard grossgasteiger on

The Irish times recently published an article about the results of the latests Irish Times/Ipsos opinion poll. It’s interesting to read about the results.

Almost half of all voters (48 per cent) say they are happy with the current level of access to abortion, the latest Irish Times/Ipsos opinion poll has found.

Just a quarter (25 per cent) of respondents to the poll said they wanted easier access to abortion, while 6 per cent said they wanted access to be made more difficult.

Ten per cent of respondents said abortion should not be available in Ireland at all. A further 10 per cent expressed no opinion.

The Ipsos/Irish Times poll was conducted

among 1,200 adults at 120 sampling points across all constituencies between July 10th and 12th. Respondents were interviewed at their own homes. The accuracy is estimated at plus or minus 2.8 per cent.

During these interviews, we are told that

Respondents to the poll were reminded that abortion is permitted “up to 12 weeks and after 12 weeks in the cases of a threat to the life or health of the mother, or fatal foetal abnormalities”.

They were asked: “Would you like easier access to abortion, more restrictive access, are you happy with the current level of access, or do you feel that abortion should not be available in Ireland at all?”

This might be a little disheartening, if unsurprising. If what people said in those interviews is representative of what Irish people think, a large majority of Irish voters are pro-choice: 74% of the respondents either described themselves as being happy with the current levels of abortion access, or wanted to further expand access. By comparison, only 16% wanted to restrict abortion access or ban abortion all together. That’s only a slightly larger group than that comprised of people who just said that they didn’t know what they thought: 10%! On the other hand, it’s worth noting that only 25% of respondents wanted to further expand access to abortion.

Now, at least some pro-life readers will wonder whether it’s really that bad. And the people running the study did give a margin of error of 2.8%, and it’s true that maybe something about the in-person interviews slightly influenced the findings (after all, there can sometimes be a difference between what people tell a particular person they believe, and what they actually believe). Nonetheless, looking at these results, it seems unreasonable not to conclude that it looks like a really large portion of Irish voters support at least the current levels of abortion access in Ireland. The results of the Repeal referendum were a sign that if the pro-life movement wants to restrict abortion, and change minds, we can’t do so by assuming the existence of a sizeable but silent pro-life majority – or of of people who are in favour of abortion for cases or rape or fatal foetal abnormalities , but think that abortion on request is going ‘too far’. These poll reports confirm that: once again, it really looks like there is no such sizeable majority. It also doesn’t look as though there’s a silent but very confused and ill-informed instinctively pro-life majority – that some people voted for Repeal but did so because they didn’t fully understand what abortion provisions this would make legally available. It looks like the majority of voters in Ireland are really in favour of providing abortion on request up to 12 weeks, and after 12 weeks in the cases of a threat to the life or health of the mother, or life limiting conditions.

This is something that pro-life advocates should take into account when engaging with people: we shouldn’t assume that they already kind of half-agree with our most basic premises, and think, for example, that abortion is wrong if a foetus is a human being in the sense of being an organism who is a member of the human species. (Muireann has written about this. See: Unborn Babies are Human – why isn’t that enough?)

Reading the poll results, I’m also reminded of another post that Muireann wrote a while ago about two different strategies for trying to change people’s minds about whether abortion should be legally accessible. (It’s worth reading the whole post, this quick description leaves stuff out!) One strategy is to try to persuade people that they should change their minds about the moral status of the unborn, to show them why we think that the moral status of a foetus is the same as that of a newborn or toddler. The other is to try to nudge people closer to the pro-life position by giving them extra information that might slightly shift their views: for example, responding to someone who thinks that late-term abortion should be available for the parents of children with life-limiting conditions by saying something along the lines of “Yes, I understand that having a baby with a life-limiting condition is incredibly difficult – but did you know that lots of families found that a perinatal hospice care model can greatly alleviate the suffering involved, and even leave the family with some precious memories that they eventually treasured?” The idea behind the second strategy is to respond to pro-choice people who often correctly point out that banning abortion can lead to suffering for parents in difficult circumstances by showing – also often correctly – that it needn’t and shouldn’t always involve that much suffering, or that pro-choice laws can lead to heartbreak and suffering, too.

The post argues that it’s important to pursue the first strategy, persuading people to change their minds about more fundamental questions, as well as the second one – giving them pieces of information that might nudge them towards a pro-life position. Of course, it’s good to inform people, and it’s good for people to know about the benefits perinatal hospice care: that’s good regardless of whether it persuades them that abortion should be illegal or not. But, for a variety of reasons, stopping at that might not be enough to change a pro-choice person’s mind about the legality of abortion. If they don’t already think that aborting a foetus with very severe life-limiting disabilities is the equivalent of euthanising a toddler for the same reason, this information might not persuasive. So we need to find ways of talking about questions that might seem more abstract, but are fundamental: like the moral status of the unborn, like bodily autonomy arguments.

This seems even more important when we’re talking to an audience who is happy with the current status quo, as it appears, most Irish people are.

There are some other details that the Irish Times article drew attention to.

Women are more likely than men to say they are happy with the current situation, with 51 per cent choosing this option, against 45 per cent of men.

However, women were also more likely to say they want easier access to abortion – 26 per cent, against 23 per cent of men.

(As a pro-life woman, I find it sad to see that women were more likely to express pro-choice views than men, though it would have been interesting to see the gender breakdown amoung those who favoured restrictions, complete bans, and who didn’t know what they thought.) Unsurprisingly,

Younger voters, wealthier voters and those in Dublin are more likely to back wider access, with 35 per cent of those under 35 favouring this option.

And here’s what we are told about people who favoured further restrictions or complete bans:

Just 6 per cent of respondents said access to abortion should be more restricted, though a further 10 per cent said they believe abortion should not be available at all. Older voters, farmers and those who are least well off are most likely to favour a complete ban. Among the over-65s, 18 per cent say abortion should not be available at all, and a further 10 per cent say it should be more difficult to access.

(Again, it would have been interesting to see more information: for example, about the breakdown of the 6% who wanted more restrictions but did not want to ban abortion outright.)

All in all, one takeaway from this is that there’s a lot of work to be done.

  1. And not all of it will involve directly trying to change people’s minds. As I said in last week’s post, to make our society more genuinely pro-life, we need to make Irish society fairer and more hospitable to children, pregnant women and families – especially ones facing difficult circumstances like poverty or discrimination. This is important regardless of whether it will persuade people that the pro-life position is correct.
  2. But we also need to change people’s minds: to convince them that the pre-born are human beings who have as much of a right to live as the rest of us. Part of this task will involve trying to understand where they are coming from, what they believe and why: listening to them. And it will also involve trying to find ways of explaining ourselves and our position. Thinking about how to do this matters: there are a lot of minds to change.

This will probably take time, to put it mildly, but at the Minimise Project we’re in this for the long haul!