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Poll shows majority support for legal abortion

Published 28 November 2006

Poll shows majority support for legal abortion

New research into public attitudes to abortion by Ipsos MORI shows that 63 per cent of a representative sample of GB adults agreed that ‘if a woman wants an abortion, she should not have to continue with her pregnancy’. 18 per cent disagreed with this.

59 per cent of those polled agreed that ‘abortion should be madelegally available for all who want it’. This would require a change to the existing law, which requires two doctors to confirm that a woman meets certain criteria. 27 per cent disagreed.

The 24-week time legal time limit for abortion was explored in the poll using a split-sample. Half the sample was given more information about abortion than the other half.  Over half (54%) of this group agreed that ‘abortion should be allowed to take place up to 24 weeks, when two doctors agree it is best for the woman’s physical or mental health’. 28% disagreed, 13% neither agreed nor disagreed and 6% did not know.  On the other side of the sample (those who were just told that abortion is legal up to 24 weeks) 46% agreed, 38% disagreed, 11% were neutral and 6% don’t know. (Please see the topline results given separately)

Ann Furedi, Chief Executive of BPAS, Britain’s main provider of abortion services, said:

‘As at least one in three women in the UK can expect to have an abortion, it is not surprising that support for legal abortion remains quite strong – despite shrill campaigns by individuals who would like to see tighter laws. Abortion is a necessary back up to birth control for couples who want to plan their families. No woman ever wants to need to have an abortion, but those who do not want it to be legal are in a minority.

‘We’re pleased to see most people support the existing legal time limit for therapeutic abortion of 24 weeks, when given information about the circumstances, because late abortion is a particularly emotional issue. 54% of the public agreed that ‘abortion should be allowed to take place up to 24 weeks, when two doctors agree it is best for the woman’s physical or mental health’, with just 28% disagreeing.

‘Public opinion seems to be more progressive than politicians think. Britain is one of the few countries in Europe and North America that does not allow abortion on the woman’s request at any stage. Abortion is our most tightly-regulated medical procedure, despite being shown to be a safe solution to a problem pregnancy. The abortion law in Britain is almost 40 years old – it’s time that it was reviewed.’



For more information, or to arrange an interview, please contact Laura Riley in theBPAS press office on 020 7612 0206 or 07788 725 185.

BPAS, (formerly known as the British Pregnancy Advisory Service) a registered charity since 1968,and is the UK’s leading not-for-profit sexual healthcare provider. BPAS carried out almost 50,000 terminations of pregnancy last year. 85% per cent of all treatments carried out by BPAS were on behalf of the NHS. BPAS’s specialist surgeons provide 2/3rds of the abortions that take place between 20 and up to 24 weeks’ gestation. Please for further information.

In May 2006, BPAS commissioned Ipsos MORI to conduct a poll of 2,140 adults on their attitudes towards abortion. A sample size of over 2,000 in a demographically-weighted survey of this kind is thought by statisticians to be reliably accurate within a range of plus, or minus, 2%.

The Abortion Act requires that two doctors must agree that the risk to a woman’s physical or mental health, or the risk to her children’s physical or mental health will be greater, if she continues with the pregnancy than if she ends it. This applies up until 24 weeks’ gestation. This Act does not apply in Northern Ireland.

Having an abortion poses fewer medical risks than going through pregnancy and birth, for most women. See theRoyal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists’ (RCOG) website for more details. The RCOG also state that ‘At least one-third of British women will have had an abortion by the time they reach the age of 45’ (see p1, ‘Care of women requesting induced abortion’, Evidence-based Guideline Number 7, Sept 2004).

Later abortion is relatively rare. Across all the statutory grounds for abortion in 2005, 700 abortions took place at 21 weeks’ gestation, 539 abortions at 22 weeks’ and just 336 at 23 weeks’. After 24 weeks, only 137 abortions took place. Please see table 5, 2005Abortion statistics for England and Wales, from the Office of National Statistics and Department of Health.

Fetal viability in the UK was measured in the EPICURE study based at Nottingham University. There is no evidence of any increase in survival at gestations of 22 weeks or less, and survival at 23 weeks is still rare. Infants born in Great Britain and Ireland have survival rates of 0% at 21 weeks, and about 1% at 22 weeks, 11% at 23 weeks and 26% at 24 weeks. Severe long-term disability is frequent in premature infants that survive, and may be as high as 67% at 23 weeks, 38% at 24 weeks, and 20% at 25 weeks. Survival after birth at 24 to 28 or more weeks has improved since the early 1990s through developments in neonatal intensive care that include better provision of respiratory and circulatory support, surfactant usage and nutrition.

Statistics from: Costeloe K, Hennesy E, and Gibson, AT. 2000. ’The EPICure Study: Outcomes infants born at the threshold of viability’.Pediatrics106(4):659- 671.

The small numbers of women who present to BPAS for abortion after 20 weeks up to 24 weeks gestation are highly vulnerable. These patients are typically very young girls who have been too frightened to tell anyone about their pregnancy or seek help, or women who did not know they were pregnant because of a medical condition masking the symptoms of pregnancy, such as the menopause. Others experience a catastrophic family event during a wanted pregnancy. This may be the critical illness of an existing child who’ll need the woman’s dedicated long-term care, sudden desertion of the pregnant woman by their husband or partner, or continued domestic violence.

Political interest in a review of abortion regulation has focused on Recommendation 77 of the Commons Science and Technology Committee’s 2005 report into ‘Human Reproductive Technology and the Law’. This concluded that ‘We call on both Houses in the new Parliament to set up a joint committee to consider the scientific, medical and social changes in relation to abortion that have taken place since 1967, with a view to presenting options for new legislation.’

Doctors agree that where safe, legal abortion is not available, women’s lives are at risk. Worldwide 68,000 women die each year after unsafe abortion, according to theWorld Health Organisation. Many thousands of others are left with severe long-term health problems as a consequence

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