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Attitudes To Abortion

Published:28 November 2006
Fieldwork:27 April - 2 May 2006
Source:British Pregnancy Advisory Service (bpas)
Keywords:Abortion, Family
(Click on keywords to find related Research)

Ipsos MORI has been examining attitudes to abortion on behalf of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (bpas) via three surveys since 1997. These findings have also been trended with a 1980 MORI question on abortion from a survey for the Sunday Times.

Our latest survey, conducted in April / May 2006, reveals that almost two-thirds (63%) of British adults agree that 'If a woman wants an abortion, she should not have to continue with her pregnancy.' Just under one in five (18%) disagrees — and this level of agreement and disagreement is similar to the previous study's in 2001.

A similar, but slightly lower proportion (59%), agrees that 'Abortion should be made legally available for all who want it', and a higher proportion, 27% disagrees with this than the previous statement. While agreement with this statement is higher than in 1980 when this question was first asked, and disagreement lower, agreement has fallen since 1997. Strength of feeling is also somewhat milder than in some of the previous studies, with fewer people now agreeing very strongly (than in 2001) and fewer disagreeing very strongly (than in 1980).

Level of approval on abortion remains very circumstance-dependent. While approval towards abortion outweighs disapproval in all four of the circumstances asked about in the survey, approval is lowest where a woman does not wish to have a child (48%, compared with 38% disapproval), and highest where there is evidence that a child would be born with serious physical disabilities (64%, compared with 20% disapproval). The other two circumstances asked about are 'Where there is evidence that the child would be born with serious learning difficulties that used to be known as mental handicap'(55% approval of abortion; 28% disapproval); and where the woman is under 16 (60% approval of abortion; 24% disapproval). Approval under three of the four circumstances has fallen since 2001 (physical disabilities, learning difficulties, woman under 16).

This year's poll also examined public support for the availability of abortion up to 24 weeks of pregnancy. A 'split-sample' technique was used whereby the two matched samples were given different levels of information to gauge their responses. Roughly half the sample (version 1) was given more information (… currently legal within 24 weeks; a woman is allowed to have an abortion at any time within the first 24 weeks when two doctors have agreed that the abortion is in the interests of her physical and mental health; a small proportion take place after 20 weeks, but some say this is too late). The other half (version 2) was given less information (… currently legal within 24 weeks; a woman is allowed to have an abortion at any time within the first 24 weeks). Both samples were then asked how strongly they agreed or disagreed that abortion should take place up to 24 weeks (and the first half of the sample, version 1, was told 'when two doctors agree it is best for the woman's physical or mental health').

When given more information (Version 1), 54% agree (and 28% disagree) that abortion should continue to be allowed up to 24 weeks when two doctors agree it is best for the woman's physical or mental health. When given less information fewer agree — 46% — and 38% disagree that abortion should continue to be allowed to take place up to 24 weeks.

Topline Results

  • Ipsos MORI interviewed a representative sample of 2,140 adults aged 15+
  • Interviews were carried out face-to-face, in home, using CAPI, in 195 sampling points across GB as part of the Ipsos MORI Omnibus
  • Fieldwork was conducted between 27 April and 2 May 2006
  • Data are weighted to reflect the GB profile
  • Results are based on all respondents unless otherwise stated. Please note that for Question 8 the sample was split so that c1,000 respondents were asked each version of the question
  • An asterisk (*) denotes a finding of less than 0.5%, but greater than zero
  • Where results do not sum to 100, this may be due to multiple responses, computer rounding or the exclusion of don't knows / not stated

How strongly do you agree or disagree with the following statements?

Q Abortion should be made legally available for all who want it.

  1980 1997 2001 2006 Change 2001-2006
    (1,943) (2,006) (2,140)  
  % % % % ± %
Agree very strongly 15 15 20 14 -6
Agree strongly 10 15 14 13 -1
Agree 29 34 29 31 +2
Neither agree nor disagree 9 9 10 11 +1
Disagree 17 13 12 16 +4
Disagree strongly 8 5 5 7 +2
Disagree very strongly 11 7 7 5 -2
No opinion 1 2 3 3 0
 
All Who Agree 54 64 62 59 -3
All Who Disagree 35 25 25 27 +2

Q If a woman wants an abortion, she should not have to continue with her pregnancy?

  2001 2006 Change 2001-2006
  (2,006) (2,140)  
  % % ± %
Agree very strongly 19 13 -6
Agree strongly 15 15 0
Agree 31 34 +3
Neither agree nor disagree 15 16 +1
Disagree 7 11 +3
Disagree strongly 4 5 +1
Disagree very strongly 6 3 -3
No opinion 3 3 0
 
All Who Agree 65 63 -2
All Who Disagree 17 18 +1

Q Do you approve or disapprove of abortion under the following circumstances?

  Approve Disapprove Don't know
  '97 '01 '06 '97 '01 '06 '97 '01 '06
  % % % % % % % % %
Where the woman is under 16 (footnote 1) 58 64 60 29 20 24 13 15 16
Where there is evidence that the child would be born with serious learning difficulties that used to be known as 'mental handicap' (footnote 2) 67 64 55 20 21 28 13 15 17
Where there is evidence that the child would be born with serious physical disabilities (footnote 3) 66 70 64 21 15 20 13 15 16
Where a woman does not wish to have a child (footnote 4) 42 50 48 46 33 38 12 16 14

Footnotes

  1. The wording of this statement differed in 1997, as follows: 'Where the woman is under the age of consent'.
  2. This statement was worded as follows in 1997: 'Where it is likely that the child would be mentally handicapped or mentally disabled'.
  3. The following wording was used in 1997: 'Where it is likely that the child would be physically handicapped or physically disabled'.
  4. The following wording was used in the previous study: 'When the woman does not wish to have a child for whatever reason'.

Q (Version 1) Abortion is currently legal within 24 weeks. That is, a woman is allowed to have an abortion at any time within the first 24 weeks of her pregnancy, when two doctors have agreed that the abortion is in the interests of her physical or mental health. A very small proportion of abortions (fewer than 2 in a hundred) take place after 20 weeks, but some people say this is too late. How strongly do you agree or disagree that abortion should continue to be allowed to take place up to 24 weeks, when two doctors agree it is best for the woman's physical or mental health?

Q (Version 2) Abortion is currently legal within 24 weeks. That is, a woman is allowed to have an abortion at any time within the first 24 weeks of her pregnancy. How strongly do you agree or disagree that abortion should continue to be allowed to take place up to 24 weeks?

  Version 1 Version 2 Change
  (1,043) (1,097)  
  % % ± %
Strongly agree 17 13 -4
Tend to agree 36 33 -3
Neither agree nor disagree 13 11 -2
Tend to disagree 13 19 +6
Strongly disagree 15 19 +4
Don't know 6 6 0
 
All Who Agree 54 46 -8
All Who Disagree 28 38 +10
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