Abortion and the Shifting Sands of Public Opinion


It is hard to get a fix on true perspectives in the current debate, writes David Quinn

A total of 78pc said ‘yes’. How would I have answered that question? First of all, I’d have to know what the pollster meant by abortion. Did they mean direct or indirect abortion, for example?


Also, what is meant by ‘risk’? Our law allows for a termination of pregnancy when there is a ‘real’ and ‘substantial’ risk to the life of the mother. Even those words are imprecise. In fact, when defining risk in these sorts of circumstances, it is impossible to be precise.

When people were answering this question did they have in mind a small amount of risk or a large (‘real and substantial’) amount of risk? It’s impossible to tell.

That said, from a pro-life point of view some of the poll findings are very worrying. Another question asked respondents where they thought abortion was acceptable ‘where there is a threat to the long-term health of the mother’. Sixty-nine per cent of people answered yes to this question.

If this is really what Irish people believe, then they effectively believe in abortion-on-demand because a threat to physical or mental health has always paved the way to abortion-on-demand.

On the other hand, only 28pc of people believe that abortion is acceptable where there is no threat to the life or health of the mother.

Social reasons

However, in America, too, only a minority of people believe abortion should be available for ‘social’ reasons, but the health ground makes it available for social reasons in practice.

The poll also found that 71pc of people believe in abortion where a woman has been raped.

Finally, and of most relevance in the context of the Government’s planned abortion legislation, 53pc think abortion should be available when a woman is suicidal. This was down five points compared with the previous poll on the issue, the one small ray of hope to be taken from this poll.

I wonder what the results would have been if he had been broken down by levels of religious practice? You’d have to hope that weekly Mass-goers would be much less likely to find abortion acceptable in the circumstances listed in the poll than non-Mass-goers.

However, I would also expect that the findings for weekly Mass-goers would be worse than expected, which only shows what a job of education the bishops and priests have on their hands.


As mentioned at the start of this article, when members of the public are being polled a huge amount depends on what you ask them and what they understand they are being asked in their own minds.

In February the Pro-Life Campaign released the findings of a poll it had commissioned. It found that 64pc of the public support “legal protections for both mothers and babies in pregnancy”.

Another poll the organisation commissioned last year asked: “Current medical practice in Ireland does not allow the deliberate killing of the unborn baby.  In a crisis pregnancy situation, the doctor has a duty of care towards the baby when intervening to save the mother’s life.  Do you consider that this ethical practice should be protected by law?”

In response to this question, 78pc said yes. This only further demonstrates that a huge amount depends on the question that gets asked.

In turn, this means it is actually hard to get an exact fix on the current state of public opinion concerning abortion. It is probably fair to say that it is fluid and is probably trending in a ‘pro-choice’ direction but that could change radically in a referendum in the unlikely event we were to have one.


The fact that support for abortion in cases of suicide has declined tends to confirm this. It is down 5pc compared with a few months ago.

Admittedly, only 23pc of the public believe abortion is not acceptable when a woman is suicidal but if we were to have a referendum on the matter, this would change very quickly.

The fact is that in a referendum the broadcast media have to be fairer than normal (which isn’t saying much admittedly) and therefore people would get to hear loud and clear that there is no medical evidence that abortion helps a suicidal pregnant woman.

A referendum would still be a close-run thing but the point is that it would be close-run whereas the polls indicate at the moment that the liberal position would win in a canter.

Deep down politicians in particular know that would not be the case in practice.

All this said, however, pro-life groups have a massive and ongoing educational task ahead of them. The public is being incessantly bombarded with pro-abortion messaging by our media and this is having its effect.

The pro-life movement has to do whatever it can to demonstrate that the interests of both women and children are much better served by its philosophy.

Only then will the polls truly begin to move back in our direction


A belt of Sean Sherlock’s crozier

Labour’s Sean Sherlock is annoyed at Archbishop Eamon Martin for saying that a Catholic politician who votes for abortion should not present him or herself for Communion.

Sherlock hit back saying: “I find it absolutely and utterly hypocritical when the Church has allowed perpetrators of abuse against children to receive Communion.

“The Church should carefully consider its position before making incendiary statements of this kind.”

Deputy Sherlock ought to know that no-one who has abused a child and is unrepentant should receive Communion.

He should also know that hundreds of priests worldwide who have abused children have been ‘defrocked’ by the Vatican, that is, laicised.

Apart from this, however, Deputy Sherlock himself belongs to a party that has expelled several of its members from the parliamentary party for voting against the party line. This is a form of excommunication.

By expelling dissenting members from the parliamentary party, the Labour leadership has declared in effect that these members are no longer in full communion with the Labour party, that is, they are out of communion, which is really another word for