Polling on abortion

Let’s start with the fundamentals – only a very small minority of people in Britain oppose abortion completely. The principle that women should be able to have an abortion has overwhelming support. For example, YouGov here found only 6% of people wanted to ban abortion altogether, and in a more detailled survey here found 11% thought it should be illegal in most cases, 2% illegal in all cases. Angus Reid found only 4% of people opposed to abortion completely here.

However, if there is broad consensus on the principle of abortion being legal, public opinion is more divided on what restrictions there should be on abortion and what rules should govern its availability. Political discussion on this normally circulates around the 24-week limit that applies to most abortions. Polls tend to find people fairly evenly split between reducing this limit or keeping it as it is – looking again at the two most recent YouGov polls on the subject, the first in 2011 found 40% supporting the status quo or a longer limit, 37% supporting a lower limit. In the 2012 poll 39% supported the status quo or a longer limit, 37% supported a lower limit. The Angus Reid poll found 48% supported a reduction, 39% supported the status quo or a longer limit. The last ICM poll I can find asked specifically about a reduction to 20 weeks, and found 53% supported it, 30% were opposed. People are, essentially, pretty evenly split over the issue.

It is worth looking at the crossbreaks on abortion. Abortion is a free vote issue in the House of Commons and MPs are not whipped, but there are obvious patterns in voting behaviour, with Conservative MPs more likely to vote in favour of tighter time limits or further restrictions on abortion and Labour MPs more likely to vote against further restrictions (neither party is monolithic of course, there are many Labour MPs who vote against abortion or in favour of more restrictions and many Conservative MPs who vote against more restrictions. The pattern is there though).

There is NOT the same consistent pattern amongst the general public – for example, in the 2011 YouGov poll Conservative voters were slightly more likely to support a reduction in the abortion limit, in the 2012 poll the position had reversed and Labour voters were more likely to support a reduction. This is not a party partisan issue.

Also surprising are gender cross-breaks. The media coverage of the abortion issue often seems to make the assumption that women are more opposed to restrictions on abortion. Polls consistently show the opposite – that women are more likely than men to support a reduction on the abortion limit. In the 2011 YouGov poll 28% of men supported a reduction, 46% of women did. In the 2012 YouGov poll 24% of men supported a reduction, 49% of women did. In the Angus Reid poll 35% of men supported a reduction in the limit, 59% of women did. In the ICM poll 45% of men supported a reduction to 20 weeks, 59% of women did.

The idea that MPs speaking out for lower limits on abortion will alienate female voters therefore seems slightly odd, by espousing a viewpoint that is more popular amongst women than men they will drive women away? Hmm. Of course, it is possible that it is an issue that has more salience amongst women than men. It’s also possible that lots of media commentators saying a party is taking an stance unpopular with women will make a party seem unsympathetic to women anyway, regardless of the actual details of the issue – if it plays into an unsympathetic towards women narrative it can bolster that narrative almost regardless.


123 Responses to “Polling on abortion”

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  1. HANNAH
    What a brilliant post, so eloquently expressed.

  2. Amber,now that’s more like it!Referring to your comment to Crossbat of course.

  3. @ SoCaL

    Question on abortion. Do you guys have parental notification/consent laws where minors who seek abortions must get permission from their parents or must notify their parents first? Maybe the issue is different with lower ages of consent.
    ————————-
    Parental consent it not required.
    8-)

  4. Howard,how kind of you to enquire.I feel like death warmed up but my
    Devotion to UKPR has forced me to raise a quivering finger upon my I pad.
    PS,your comments are never rubbish.

  5. @Socal

    “Do you guys have parental notification/consent laws where minors who seek abortions must get permission from their parents or must notify their parents first? Maybe the issue is different with lower ages of consent.”

    No. There was a court case initiated by a parent to impose one, some years ago, but it failed:

    h ttp://www.ukcen.net/index.php/main/commentaries/gillick_rules_ok_the_sue_axon_casettp://www.ukcen.net/index.php/main/commentaries/gillick_rules_ok_the_sue_axon_case

    h ttp://www.bailii.org/cgi-bin/markup.cgi?doc=/ew/cases/EWHC/Admin/2006/37.html&query=axon&method=boolean

    “Wait, is Jeremy Hunt pro-choice or pro-life? If the latter, I think he’s lost some of his sex appeal for me.”

    What, the Murdoch scandal didn’t do that for you??

    In my case it’s had the opposite affect, up until now my attitude to JH has been not one of attraction, but an irritating sense of cognitive dissonance, due to the fact that he’s a relatively good looking man but also revealed to be completely venal as well. His latest intervention has tempered that latter somewhat, but then I remember the whole Murdoch thing and it’s all just weird and confusing to me.

    In answer to your question, it doesn’t really work like that so much in the UK (see my first post FPT).

  6. @ Hanah

    Your post is eloquent but doesn’t fit the facts. At less than 23 weeks a woman IS expected to hand her baby to the doctors & run away as fast as she can. The policy is DNR & not to strive to keep babies of less than 23 weeks alive.
    8-)

  7. “At less than 23 weeks a woman IS expected to hand her baby to the doctors & run away as fast as she can. The policy is DNR & not to strive to keep babies of less than 23 weeks alive.”

    I don’t quite understand what you’re saying. If you’re saying that doctors would actively treat at that point then that has generally been the bone of contention in recent outbreaks of the debate on the 24 week limit, but the guideline is that parental decisions take precedence:

    http://www.nuffieldbioethics.org/neonatal-medicine/neonatal-medicine-guidelines-intensive-care-extremely-premature-babies

    Either way I don’t see how that undermines my central argument.

    If you’re point is that the policy is DNR below this point, then I really don’t see how that undermines my central argument as that’s the crux of it, and I suspect you’re either misunderstanding or twisting my words.

  8. @ SoCal

    You could get one [a t-shirt] that says “Radical, Harriet Harman Loving, Feminist” on it.
    ——————–
    I might just do that :-)

    ——————-
    Do you think Harriet Harman really turns men Conservative?

    Ones who are small c already, yes she probably does. Whether it sticks until voting day is another matter but lots of them do seem to dislike her.

  9. Ugh, I’ve somehow done a horrible double link in my response to SoCalLiberal. That was meant to be:

    http://www.ukcen.net/index.php/main/commentaries/gillick_rules_ok_the_sue_axon_case

  10. If the limit was lowered to say 20 weeks and a women went abroad for a later abortion (22-24 weeks) would she be charged with unlawful killing or some other charge

    We have had Irish women coming over here for decades and it seems to me that lawmakers need to consider the possibility of ‘abortion tourism’ (sorry awful phrase) by some UK women and illegal abortions in this country endangering health when reaching decisions.

    Are the any age break-downs? As (sorry for anecdote) my mother is 73 and I can rarely recall her being animated by a political issue. The Alton Bill was one such time as she is old enough to remember, and I think new some young women, who endangered their lives with back-street abortions. I can see her now vividly literally (and I mean literally )shaking with anger at Alton and it is around 30 years ago.

  11. @Amber Star

    I’ve always liked Opinium opinion; so much better than Populus opinion! lol

    At risk of repeating myself, and alienating my large and loyal following on UKPR, I have to say that the idea that Cameron is some vote-hoovering electoral trump card is, quite frankly, risible. He didn’t seal the deal with the electorate in 2010 and, in terms of popular appeal, has gone downhill since. In that sense Miliband has nothing to fear but fear itself.

    @Hannah

    “In essence it’s not about a cogent ethical framework, it’s about brokering a peace between, moral egocentrism and moral squeamishness.”

    That’s a little opaque for me at this time of night, but if I understand what I think you’re saying, I couldn’t disagree more. The choice you present is entirely a false one. If you start with the premise that life starts at conception, abortion is wrong. I don’t agree with that, but some do and won’t countenance aborting a foetus of any age. That’s a valid moral choice and brooks no compromise So, if you don’t agree and think that abortion, used with discretion and under strict medical supervision, is acceptable then the argument becomes the one that Hunt has ignited; that is the acceptable term of a pregnancy before abortion can no longer be countenanced. That decision will be, presumably, about the sustainability of meaningful life, and I defer entirely to the medical profession on that. I’m not a believer in abortion on demand but I wouldn’t limit it either to extreme cases like conception by rape or severely damaged foetuses. There may well be pressing social reasons, more to do with the mother’s age and circumstances, that can be persuasive cases too. I am, however, totally opposed to abortion becoming a convenient lifestyle choice.

    What on earth all this has to do with egocentricity and squeamishness, moral or otherwise, I have absolutely no idea.

  12. “That decision will be, presumably, about the sustainability of meaningful life, and I defer entirely to the medical profession on that.”

    But the life is sustainable at any point during pregnancy as long as the pregnancy continues, I’m not sure what whether or not it is sustainable ex-utero, has to do with it, unless it’s for the reasons I outlined in my original post. What “meaningful” means, I don’t think is a simple empirical question.

  13. @ Hannah

    And yet women generally aren’t allowed to deliver at any point after 24 weeks, hand the baby over to the doctors, and then run as fast as they can in the opposite direction.
    ————————
    I assumed you meant under 24 weeks & the above quote saying after was a typo.

    Women actually ARE allowed to hand a baby of any age whatsoever to doctors & run away as fast as they can.

    “There is no [UK] national policy or legislation that specifically describes child abandonment and how to address it. Indeed, in the Home Office.s (2005) comprehensive list of offences against children, child abandonment is only specifically mentioned once: When the child is under two years of age. It references the Offences Against the Person Act (1861), which states that anyone who illegally abandons a child under the age of two, such that the child.s life may be in danger, is guilty of a criminal offence.”
    8-)

  14. Perhaps my post wasn’t that eloquent. I meant deliver electively.

  15. I was referring to elective induction, not abandonment.

  16. @ Hanah

    Interestingly, women are not generally permitted to electively continue with a pregnancy below the threshold.

    Generally speaking, doctors will not attempt to prevent a miscarriage or administer drugs to benefit the foetus – to the potential detriment to the mother, even if she requests that they do so – until the viability threshold is passed.
    8-)

  17. “Generally speaking, doctors will not attempt to prevent a miscarriage or administer drugs to benefit the foetus – to the potential detriment to the mother, even if she requests that they do so – until the viability threshold is passed.”

    I’m not sure what that’s supposed to prove. I’m sure they would if they thought it would be effective:

    http://www.rcog.org.uk/files/rcog-corp/GTG1b26072011.pdf

    Clearly attempting to slow labour marginally, remote from viability or carry out other interventions wouldn’t make any difference to the survival of the baby which is why they wouldn’t do it, even if asked. It’s to do with outcomes, not a value judgement as to the relative worth of life pre and post 24 weeks.

    If anything that harms your case because it demonstrates that positive bodily autonomy (i.e. choosing or demanding intervention with your body) is not absolute, or at least not considered absolute, but can be subordinated to clinical judgement, and potentially other considerations as well.

  18. I hope that Anthony will cover the Opinium polling tomorrow. The stuff about Boris is interesting & I’m hoping he can confirm or correct my understanding of it.

    It seems that whilst Conservative perception is that Boris is popular – 62% say he would attract more votes for the Tories, when questioned the % of those likely to vote who would consider the Conservatives was 29% with DC as leader & a whopping (ahem) 32% with Boris as leader.

    I’ll be interesting to know whether Anthony gives this interpretation of the data – & the data itself – a thumbs up.

    If the 32 v 29 is a fair reflection of the situation, my take is that DC is as safe as houses. Boris will likely be less attractive to the voting public than DC, once the honeymoon period is over (beating Ken; Olympic glow).

    8-)

  19. Colin

    If you take the two questions should abortion be legal in most cases or legal in all cases & net the scores off, the result through the age bands is :-

    18-24 Net 3 most cases
    25-39 Net 4 all cases
    40-59 Net 10 most cases
    60+ Net 23 most cases.

    I don’t think that means anything at all. Whether you reply “Most cases” or “All cases” means very little unless you specify what the minority of cases that you think should be refused consists of. Otherwise they are really saying the same thing – that you think abortion should be legal.

    The real difference is between these groups and those who think abortion should be illegal or only allowed in particular circumstances – or as the YouGov table shows ‘Legal in all/most cases’ versus ‘Illegal in most/all cases’.

    18-24 Net +54 most/all cases
    25-39 Net +65 most/all cases
    40-59 Net +69 most/all cases
    60+ Net +58 most/all cases.

    which suggest that as women get older and more likely to have had children they become more pro-abortion – perhaps a bit less so after the children have grown and they no longer need the option (23 women 50 or over had abortions in 2011, but I suspect none over 60)

    By the way looked at this way the gender gap about abortion disappears Men +61, Women +65.

  20. It’s all very well in theory, but I think Boris has too many skeletons in his closet to be successful at a high level on the national stage, this isn’t France (while we’re on the subject…).

  21. This abortion debate is all a bit depressing. It looks like becoming more of a party based issue, in the US mould, which would be terribly depressing.

    Still – I can see why Cameron doesn’t want any reduction in the length of term allowed. He’s still got to abort the Big Society, and that’s been around for around 150 weeks, but still hasn’t reached viability yet.

  22. Rangers lose to Stirling Albion!

    Life just gets better and better.

  23. @ Hanah

    It’s to do with outcomes, not a value judgement as to the relative worth of life pre and post 24 weeks.
    ———————-
    Exactly the point which I am making.

    Abortion is not about relative worth, it is about viability.

    IMO, most women have no preference for the foetus being dead. If women could have an induced delivery at 20 to 24 weeks, when nobody knows they are pregnant, hand the baby to the doctors & run away, then many of them might actually prefer to do that.
    8-)

  24. “Exactly the point which I am making.”

    I think not, at least I can’t figure out what your overarching argument is, you just seem to be throwing out disjointed facts and arguments, that seem to not originate in any meaningful way from the discussion, and lead nowhere.

    “Abortion is not about relative worth, it is about viability.”

    Eh? Clearly there’s a way of ensuring an outcome of a baby with a normal lifespan and that’s not to have/perform an abortion. And clearly it is about relative worth, on a social level it’s about the relative value you place on the baby continuing to be alive vs whatever reason the woman has to not have a baby or continue to be pregnant. I’d like to hear you give an argument for viability as a meaningful marker as you wouldn’t be able to deliver on demand after viability anyway, whether the woman would prefer this is irrelevant.

    “So Hannah, I have a question for you: How much are you willing to pay, in taxes or donations, to support the care of premature babies?”

    How long is a piece of string? Happily I’m not the one who has to make those decisions and I don’t pay any taxes anyway (beyond VAT) because I don’t have an income. FWIW I’d put neonatal care very highly in terms of what’s worthy of government expenditure. The whole point feels like a red herring anyway.

    Two “n”s in Hannah, by the way.

  25. HANNAH (et al)

    ” it doesn’t really work like that so much in the UK ”

    There is no “UK” situation. Northern Ireland is entirely different.

  26. @ Crossbat, Ann in Wales

    #YouGov SundayTimes : Lab 45% (+5) Con 31% (-4) LibDem 8% (-2) UKIP 8% (+1)…The changes in brackets are from last Sunday’s Times

    Per a comment on Cif so I take no responsibility for the accuracy. :-)

  27. “There is no “UK” situation. Northern Ireland is entirely different.”

    I meant the pro-life/pro-choice dichotomy.

  28. HANNAH

    You leave me confused. That dichotomy must exist in every society/political community. It’s the legislative framework that varies, and there is no UK legislative framework for abortion.

  29. Mike Smithson Tweet

    EdM still has some way to go in convincing voters that he’ll be PM. Just 32% tell YouGov that it’s likely with 54% saying it isn’t.

  30. @Amber

    That YouGov for tomorrow’s Sunday Times looks very interesting indeed. Definite Conference bounce for Labour and, in terms of political mood music, fairly depressing for the Tory hordes now descending on Birmingham, I would think.

  31. Whilst Ed Milliband undoubtedly still has a way to go – but think him quite capable of doing – I seem to recall Mike Smithson predicted the libdems wining Oldham E and Saddleworth by election and several libdems revivals in the last couple of years. A notoriously biased old libdem spinner.

  32. PB is saying Ed`s leadership numbers have jumped from -29 to -9…MOE I guess :)

  33. @ Hannah

    I’d like to hear you give an argument for viability as a meaningful marker as you wouldn’t be able to deliver on demand after viability anyway, whether the woman would prefer this is irrelevant.
    —————————-
    Yes, medically speaking it is possible to deliver on demand after viability.

    Women may not be offered this option but you sure can do it.

    The rise in elective cesarean deliveries is a case in point. Assuming a ‘normal’ pregnancy & an elective ceasarean, the doctors will choose to perform this as early as 35 weeks because not waiting until 38-42 weeks gives a better outcome for the mother.

    My over-arching principle is that a woman shouldn’t have to continue with any pregnancy when she doesn’t want to. And sooner or later, medical science will reach the point where foetuses can survive & thrive into babies in a way which makes pregnancy pretty much unecessary; that’ll give us all a different moral/ ethical/ economic dilemma to argue about.
    8-)

  34. @ Old Nat

    EdM still has some way to go in convincing voters that he’ll be PM. Just 32% tell YouGov that it’s likely with 54% saying it isn’t.
    ——————
    It’s a bit vague, isn’tit? Won’t we need to see the tables before we can figure out what this actually means?
    8-)

  35. Amber

    I did just post Smithson’s tweet! They are normally just flavours of his next thread – but usually have some basis.

  36. @Old Nat

    Ah, so no link with that there tweet; just the headline figure.
    8-)

  37. smukesh: have just read Peter Hitchens in its entirety. He is a really nasty person in my opinion and his last paragraph in which he compares child abuse that has gone unchecked, probably for centuries, in the Roman Catholic Church to the BBC’s attitude to the allegations about J. Savile are despicable in the extreme.

  38. Amber

    No link.

    I was just discussing this thread with Mrs Nat. She came up with an interesting comment : while men are obviously involved with conception, and hopefully its consequences, they need to step back several paces from influencing the decisions – both at the personal and political level.

  39. Amber

    ” And sooner or later, medical science will reach the point where foetuses can survive & thrive into babies in a way which makes pregnancy pretty much unecessary; that’ll give us all a different moral/ethical/ economic dilemma to argue about.”

    That makes me very sad

  40. @ RIN

    That makes me very sad
    —————-
    It will make me sad if it is only rich women who have a choice about whether to have a natural pregnancy or to substitute technology.

    I hope it always will be a choice.

    It is often a bit sad when technology makes nature obsolete e.g. motor vehicles instead of horses.
    8-)

  41. Paul Croft ,

    Health professionals and victims will enlighten you that until the 1980s it was well nigh impossible for a victim of abuse to successfuly bring charges against an institution of any kind , whether it be faith , secular or hospital or family .

    The blind eye was the most prevalent way of dealing with abuse and the BBC is typical

  42. @ Amber Star

    “Parental consent it not required.:

    Oh good. That’s something that tends to be very popular among the electorate (even among many pro-choice people) and has been wildly successful at the ballot box as a voter initiative.

    “I might just do that :)”

    Lol. Sometimes the best way to take on pejorative words and phrases is to embrace them and make fun of them. That’s what Dick Gregory encouraged with the n-word. I think it’s what Meredith Brooks was going for in her 1998 hit, “Bitch.”

    “Ones who are small c already, yes she probably does. Whether it sticks until voting day is another matter but lots of them do seem to dislike her.”

    That’s a shame. I like her. She reminds me of Hillary Clinton. I’m hardpressed to think of too many feminist female politicians here who have that same level of polarization among men.

    @ Alec

    “This abortion debate is all a bit depressing. It looks like becoming more of a party based issue, in the US mould, which would be terribly depressing.”

    Yeah, it is. But think on the bright side. It could be worse. You could be debating the birth control pill. And you could have political discourse that resembles more of an attempt at high school human development class.

    “Still – I can see why Cameron doesn’t want any reduction in the length of term allowed. He’s still got to abort the Big Society, and that’s been around for around 150 weeks, but still hasn’t reached viability yet.”

    Lol. You have a great sense of humor. :)

    “Rangers lose to Stirling Albion!”

    Also, Texas Rangers (the team the ex-President used to own) lost their wild card playoff game to the Baltimore Orioles. :)

  43. @ Old Nat

    “I was just discussing this thread with Mrs Nat. She came up with an interesting comment : while men are obviously involved with conception, and hopefully its consequences, they need to step back several paces from influencing the decisions – both at the personal and political level.”

    Mrs. Nat seems like a very wise woman. I feel like we men have control over our reproductive organs. Women should have equal control over theirs.

    @ Hannah

    “No. There was a court case initiated by a parent to impose one, some years ago, but it failed”

    That’s fascinating actually. Just from the pure legal perspective, I don’t know how a court could have the authority to impose such a rule. Talk about legislating from the bench and judicial activism.

    “What, the Murdoch scandal didn’t do that for you??”

    Lol. I have low standards. :(

    “In my case it’s had the opposite affect, up until now my attitude to JH has been not one of attraction, but an irritating sense of cognitive dissonance, due to the fact that he’s a relatively good looking man but also revealed to be completely venal as well. His latest intervention has tempered that latter somewhat, but then I remember the whole Murdoch thing and it’s all just weird and confusing to me.”

    I think it’s possible for politicians to disappoint you and then please you depending on the issue and the circumstance. I think a lot of it is about balance. Politicians often aren’t all good or all bad. I tend to look up to politicians and see their jobs as a higher calling and service to the public but I don’t think any of them are flawless.

  44. ChasGlas:

    I don’t get your point: Hitchens was suggesting the BBC were somehow as morally corrupt and responsible as the Catholic Church. I find that a staggering assertion for someone to make.

    As someone who was regularly strapped at a Catholic School in Gibraltar in the 60’s [simply the only school there at the time] I’m well aware that complaint was utterly useless at that time.

  45. On a lighter note Arsenal were great at West Ham.

  46. ROGER MEXICO

    @”Whether you reply “Most cases” or “All cases” means very little unless you specify what the minority of cases that you think should be refused consists of. Otherwise they are really saying the same thing – that you think abortion should be legal.”

    I disagree

    I think it means that the respondents perceive circumstances where abortion should not “always” be legal.
    That the nature of such cases is not specified in the OP clearly does not prevent some respondents having their own idea of the criteria.

    I am as interested in the recognition that such criteria exist, and increasingly through the age bands, as I am in the exact nature of those criteria.

  47. Latest YouGov / The Sunday Times results 5 – 7th October – CON 31%, LAB 45%, LD 8%, UKIP 8%; APP -37.

    Make of it what you will. I’m in two minds – despite being in “One Nation”.

  48. Good Morning All.
    ALEC. Agreed about the Glasgow Rangers result.

    PAUL CROFT. I think all schools, almost, had a ‘strapping’ policy.

    HANNAH; Many thanks for your posts, courageously expressed.

    The YG poll did surprise me when I awoke.

  49. CHASGLAS

    @”the blind eye was the most prevalent way of dealing with abuse and the BBC is typical”

    I think you are correct. The thing which leaps out of the wave of reports now appearing, for me, is how different attitudes were back then -certainly in the area of popular music & entertainment.

    Attitudes which today would be ( and are being) described as “child abuse” , were freely tolerated-by everyone.

    If a few faded “stars” , living & dead, -and the BBC- , have to go through a painful reminder of their behaviour , so be it. It shows we are making some sort of progress as a society.

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