Today’s Telegraph carried an extensive YouGov poll on abortion, embryo research and related topics. There were a couple of polls on abortion earlier this year when Michael Howard indicated he wouild favour a tighter time limit on abortion. They showed that somewhere between a quarter and a third of people supported the current 24 week limit, with most other people favouring a shorter time limit. There was very little support for the complete prohibition of abortion. Today’s YouGov poll shows similar figures.

YouGov found that only a quarter of people support the current 24 week limit, with 58% of people favouring a tighter limit. A 20 week limit was the most popular choice, supported by 30% of respondents. Only small minorities supported allowing abortions up until birth (2%) or totally outlawing abortion (6%). The wording of the question specifically pointed out that premature babies born as early as the 23rd week have been able to survive; this does not, however, seem to have made much difference to the answer – a YouGov poll back in March asked about abortion time limits without mentioning this and found an almost identical 26% of people supported the 24 week limit.

Asked if, time limits aside, abortions were too easy to obtain in this country, the majority (51%) of people thought that the balance was about right, although there is a significant body of opinion (30%) that think that abortions are too easy to obtain. Asked if women are using abortion as a form of contraception, around a quarter of respondents thought that this was common behaviour, 67% thought such behaviour was either confined to just a few, or almost no women.

Finally on the subject of abortion, YouGov asked if it should be free “on demand” on the NHS. There are actually two different concepts here: whether it should be publicly funded, and whether it should be available “on demand” – legally abortions in the UK are not available on demand, two doctors (one in an emergency) must decide that continuing the pregnancy would be detrimental to the mother, the child or the mother’s other children’s physical or mental health. For whatever reason, this question showed the sharpest divide – 41% thought that abortions should be available on demand on the NHS, 48% thought they shouldn’t. While on other abortion questions there were no large differences between age groups, on this question there was; amongst under 30s 53% thought that abortion should be free on demand, while amongst over 50s, 61% thought it should not.

YouGov then moved on to the subject of embryo research. Slighty over two-thirds of respondents were happy with “spare” early embryos from IVF treatment being used for medical research, with only 20% opposed. Opposition rose drastically though when it came to the question of creating embryos specifically for experimentation – 46% were opposed, with 41% in support.

YouGov then asked a serious of questions governing the rights of embryos, how the law should govern the use of embryos and what sort of research justified their use. Responses fell into three broad groups: about a sixth of respondents were broadly opposed to using embryos in research – they thought that the rights of the embryo outweighed the rights of parents, and embryos should have the same rights as human babies. A slightly smaller proportion (11%) of people thought that it was completely unacceptable to use embryos in medical research.

A second broad group of respondents, numbering somewhere around a fifth of respondents, took the view that early embryos were really not human beings and therefore there should be no legal protection, and that it should be up to parents how the embryos are used. The rest, making the up the majority of respondents, didn’t really think that early embryos were really human beings and thought their rights should come second to patients, but thought their use should be limited by law nevertheless. A majority (54%) of respondents thought they should be used only for research into life threatening illnesses.

The poll also included questions on euthanasia, cloning and “designer babies”, which I will cover tomorrow.


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