about us
peer education
pregnancy services
health promotion
sexual health

Clear Majority Would Tolerate Some Abortions
Irish Times 17/10/06
By Eithne Donnellan

The majority of Irish people now believe abortion is acceptable in at least some circumstances, the ESRI/RCSI research found.

It also established that large swathes of the population support having the morning-after pill available over the counter in pharmacies at this stage.

At the publication of the report yesterday the Minister for Health, Mary Harney, said she did not see another abortion referendum being held.

And she urged caution in relation to having emergency contraception readily available to all. It was a matter, in the first instance, for the Irish Medicines Board to determine which medicines should be available over the counter, she said.

The research, entitled The Irish Study of Sexual Health and Relationships, found that overall 64 per cent of the population now believe abortion is acceptable in some circumstances, but 36 per cent of those surveyed said abortion was always wrong.

Of the 64 per cent who said abortion was acceptable in some circumstances, 17 per cent said it was mostly wrong, 38 per cent said it was sometimes wrong and 9 per cent said it is never wrong.

This indicates a substantial shift in attitudes to abortion since the 1980s, the report says.

“Proportions stating that abortion is always wrong/never justified fell from between 70 per cent and 90 per cent in 1981 to between 30 per cent and 39 per cent in 2005,” it said.

Younger age groups are less likely to see abortion as always wrong, according to the report, as 32 per cent of men and 31 per cent of women aged 18 to 24 saw abortion as always wrong compared to 45 per cent of men and 54 per cent of women in the 55 to 64 age group.

People with more education were less likely to find abortion to be always wrong and the more religious were far more likely to respond that abortion was always wrong.

Meanwhile, on the subject of emergency contraception the study found only 21 per cent of men and 42 per cent of women know the correct time limit for use of the morning-after pill, which is within 72 hours of having intercourse.

On the availability of emergency contraception, just 9 per cent of those surveyed believed its use is always wrong. The report says that the morningafter pill is now available over the counter in more than 25 countries. Here it remains a prescription-only medicine.

Ms Harney said emergency contraception had to be seen as an emergency measure.

“I would not favour and I don't think any medic would favour somebody using emergency contraception as a form of ongoing contraception.

“I think that would be dangerous and therefore in the first instance it would be a matter for the Irish Medicines Board to decide whether or not the morning-after pill should be made available over the counter . . . [C]learly it can only be done if it's medically safe to do so and until we get the advice of the regulatory body that has responsibility in this area I wouldn't be in a position to make a decision,” she said.

Dr Nazih Eldin from the Department of Health and chair of the national Aids strategy committee said he was very surprised at the level of support for the morning-after pill being made available over the counter. The option would be given consideration, he said.

On abortion Ms Harney said: “Well the people have voted in relation to these issues as you know and we have provisions in our Constitution and there's certainly no plan that I'm aware of to have another referendum on abortion in the foreseeable future.

“This is a very difficult, sensitive issue . . . and currently there's a case before the Supreme Court in relation to when life begins and we are currently awaiting the determination of the courts in relation to that matter”.