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L to R: Adrianne Peltz of Amnesty International, Kellie Armstrong of the Alliance Party, David Ford of the Alliance Party, Claire Bailey of the Green Party and Patrick Corrigan of Amnesty International at Parliament Buildings in Belfast. orla
Women's Health

Six in ten people want abortion to be decriminalised in Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK where abortion is illegal, except where continuing a pregnancy would cause a serious risk to the mother’s health.

SIX IN TEN people in Northern Ireland want abortion to be decriminalised, new research has found.

Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK where abortion is illegal, except where continuing a pregnancy would cause a serious risk to the mother’s health.

The Amnesty International poll was conducted by Millward Brown Ulster using face-to-face interviews with a representative sample of 1,000 people aged 16 and older, in multiple urban and rural locations across Northern Ireland.

Here are the main findings:

  • 72% of people think abortion should be available if the pregnancy is a result of rape or incest; while 15% are opposed
  • 67% of people think abortion should be available in cases of fatal foetal abnormality; 17% are opposed
  • 58% of people think abortion should be decriminalised so there would be no criminal penalty for women who have abortions in Northern Ireland; 22% are opposed to this change
  • 59% of people think abortion should be decriminalised so there would be no criminal penalty for doctors and medical staff who assist women to have abortions in Northern Ireland; 21% are opposed
  • 68% of people think the fact that in most cases abortion is classified as a crime in Northern Ireland adds to the distress of women seeking an abortion; 14% disagreed
  • 75% of people think the fact that women from Northern Ireland who are seeking a lawful abortion must travel to England adds to their distress; 11% disagreed
  • 71% of people agreed that having to travel to England for a lawful abortion has a disproportionately negative impact on women with low income; 11% disagreed.

More than 45,000 people have signed a petition calling for abortion to be decriminalised in the north, where it is currently punishable by a life sentence in prison.

The largest party in the Northern Ireland assembly, the Democratic Unionist Party, is opposed to extending access to abortion there.

Adrianne Peltz, Amnesty International’s Northern Ireland Campaigner, said:

“These poll findings demonstrate an overwhelming demand for change to Northern Ireland’s draconian abortion laws. This is not a small margin of support for women’s access to abortion, it’s a definitive landslide. Northern Ireland has changed.

People who think women should be denied abortions are in a small and ever-decreasing minority. Only one in six people agree with the status quo for abortion laws.

“Not only do a huge majority of people in Northern Ireland want to see abortion made available to women and girls in the tragic circumstances of rape, incest or fatal foetal diagnosis, but they also want to see abortion decriminalised for all women.

“Politicians from all parties in the Northern Ireland Assembly should study these poll findings in great detail.”


Precious Life, a pro-life group, says the poll “has no regard for the democratic process that respects and upholds the views of the pro-life people of Northern Ireland.”

The results of the last Northern Ireland Assembly Election in May 2016 showed that the majority of people of Northern Ireland vote for pro-life politicians who they entrust to defend our pro-life laws and defend the right to life of all unborn children, regardless of their abilities, disabilities, or circumstance of conception.

In November 2015, Northern Ireland’s High Court found that the region’s restrictive abortion laws breach the European Convention on Human Rights in cases of fatal foetal abnormality and where the pregnancy resulted from sexual assault. The Northern Ireland Executive has appealed the judgment and a decision from the Court of Appeal is now pending.

In April of this year, a 21-year-old Northern Ireland woman was given a three-month suspended prison sentence after being found guilty of taking abortion pills to end her pregnancy. The court was told that the woman, aged 19 at the time of the offence, could not afford to travel to England to have a lawful abortion.

The Eighth Amendment

In the Republic, a contentious debate continues in relation to the Eighth Amendment – the section of the Irish Constitution that gives equal status to the unborn as to the mother.

TDs will soon debate an Anti-Austerity Alliance/People Before Profit bill calling for the amendment to be repealed.

The issue is also being examined by the Citizens’ Assembly, which began its work at the weekend.

Speaking on Saturday, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said the topic of abortion has “divided our country in the past”.

Kenny said he believes “diverse views” are no longer given the freedom they deserve in modern society.

Regrettably, we live in a time when an opposing view is no longer seen simply as a diverse opinion on a topic worthy of attention and debate.

“Rather we live in a time when a diverse opinion has become something, or someone to be pitied, ridiculed, virtually hounded, or indeed destroyed.

“I would remind all commentators that posts that seem might seem devastatingly witty to them might be simply devastating to the people they refer to, the people who receive them and indeed to their families,” Kenny stated.

Read: Study shows vast majority of Irish women who took abortion pills feel they made right decision

Read: Day one of Citizens’ Assembly hears people with ‘diverse views’ are ‘destroyed’ on social media

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