21 September 2023
New polling from the National Centre for Social Research finds that support for a woman's right to choose is at a record high
- Polling released today shows that support for an abortion being allowed in circumstances when the woman decides on her own that she does not want to have a child is at a record high, rising from from 37% in 1983 to 76% today. In 2005 and 2017, this figure was 60% and 70% respectively.
- The National Centre for Social Research polling also found an "almost universal support for abortions being allowed when the woman’s health is seriously endangered by the pregnancy or when there is a strong chance of the baby having a serious health condition."
- The women's healthcare charity the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, BPAS, says the polling demonstrates that the current legal framework, under which abortion remains a criminal offence for a woman unless two doctors authorise her request, is “vastly out of step with public opinion” and that abortion is not the divisive or controversial issue it is often portrayed.
Polling released today by the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) has found that support for a woman's right to choose is at a record high, with the vast majority of the public supporting a more liberal position than the legal framework. Support for an abortion being allowed in circumstances when the woman decides on her own that she does not want to have a child is now at a record high, rising from 37% in 1983 to 76% now. Under current law, no woman is legally entitled to an abortion on this basis, but must obtain legal permission from two doctors on the grounds that continuing the pregnancy would have a detrimental effect on her health or that of her family, or if there is a risk of foetal anomaly.
The NatCen polling also found an "almost universal support for abortions being allowed when the woman’s health is seriously endangered by the pregnancy or when there is a strong chance of the baby having a serious health condition" with 95% and 89% respectively thinking that abortion should be allowed in these circumstances. Almost three quarters (72%) express this view when the couple cannot afford any more children.
While religious affiliation appears to influence attitudes, more than half of each group defined by religion supports abortion in each of the circumstances asked about. Among Catholics, the majority (58%) think that abortion should be allowed if the woman decides on her own that she does not want a child, and this figure is 62%-72% among all other groups defined by religion.
Interestingly, there are few significant differences in views on abortion by age. The report states that there is not "a clear pattern of younger age groups adopting the more liberal stance, as was the case with attitudes to family formation and sexual relationships. This might lead us to conclude that the increasing liberalisation in attitudes towards abortion may not primarily have been driven by generational replacement."
Clare Murphy, BPAS Chief Executive, said:
"This latest polling confirms not just that we are a pro-choice country, but that our current legal framework, under which abortion remains a criminal offence for a woman unless two doctors authorise her request, is vastly out of step with public opinion. The overwhelming majority of people believe abortion should be allowed if a woman decides for herself she does not want a child.
"Support for abortion on this basis has grown dramatically since the early 1980s, but has also been on a sharp upwards trajectory in the last decade. This may in part be explained by increasing openness about abortion, a growing understanding that women cannot control their fertility through contraception alone, and that compelled pregnancy has no place in the 21st Century.
"Politicians are sometimes fearful of engaging in discussions about abortion on the grounds that it's too "controversial." These results clearly show that this is not the position of those who elect them - abortion is accepted as a decision many women will need to make in their reproductive lifetimes. There are growing calls for abortion to be decriminalised and regulated in the same way as any other form of healthcare, enabling women to make their own decisions about pregnancy. When the opportunity for reform to modernise our arcane laws arises, we urge MPs to make the right choice."
The full report, BSA 40, is available online here.
For further information, please contact Katherine O’Brien, BPAS Associate Director of Campaigns and Communications, on katherine.o’email@example.com or 07881 265276.
The British Pregnancy Advisory Service, BPAS, is a charity that sees over 100,000 women a year for reproductive healthcare services including pregnancy counselling, abortion care, miscarriage management and contraception at clinics across Great Britain.
BPAS exists to further women’s reproductive choices. We believe all women should have the right to make their own decisions in and around pregnancy, from the contraception they use to avoid pregnancy right the way through to how they decide to feed their newborn baby, with access to evidence-based information to underpin their choices and high-quality services and support to exercise them.
BPAS also runs the Centre for Reproductive Research and Communication, CRRC. Through rigorous multidisciplinary research and impactful communication, the CRRC aims to inform policy, practice, and public discourse. You can find out more here.