Protesters during an abortion rights demonstration in the centre of Dublin.

© 2009 Niall Carson/PA Archive/Press Association Images

(New York) – The Irish government should implement the will of the Irish population by liberalizing the country’s restrictive abortions laws, Human Rights Watch said today, on International Women’s Day.

In a survey published today by YouGov, a polling organization, more than 60 percent of those who responded said they support access to abortion in Ireland in cases of rape, incest, fatal fetal abnormalities, or danger to the pregnant woman’s life or health. Only 3 percent said abortion should never be allowed. Current Irish law permits abortion only when a woman’s life is threatened by her pregnancy, and in practice women cannot get abortions in Ireland even under those circumstances.

“The Irish government has too long refused to change its abortion laws by hiding behind the false premise that the Irish population thinks the current situation is fine,” said Marianne Mollmann, women’s rights advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “Clearly, this is not true.”

Abortion was illegal in all circumstances in Ireland until 1992. At that point, following a referendum approved by the people, it was affirmed that abortion should be legal if a woman’s life is threatened by her pregnancy. The referendum also protected the right to travel abroad to obtain abortion services, and to obtain and provide information about such services.

In January 2010, Human Rights Watch published a report detailing the human rights consequences of Ireland’s restrictive abortion laws, “A State of Isolation: Access to Abortion for Women in Ireland.” A key finding was that even women who, under current law, are entitled to abortion services cannot get them in Ireland. The reason, the report said, was that inadequate regulations leave medical professionals afraid that they might face punishment if they provide abortion services. The report   also documented unjustified restrictions and barriers to obtaining information about and travelling to countries where abortion services are available.

 “The government has essentially been ignoring the will of the Irish people for 18 years,” said Mollmann. “It’s time to catch up and move on. People clearly want their friends, neighbours, and family members to be able to get medical services they need within Ireland.”

Findings of the YouGov poll: 

  • 87 percent of respondents agreed that termination of pregnancy should be permitted if the pregnancy seriously endangers the woman’s life;
  • 79 percent  agreed that termination of pregnancy should be permitted if the woman’s health is at risk;
  • 78 percent agreed that termination of pregnancy should be permitted if the pregnancy is the result of sexual abuse, rape, or incest;
  • 62 percent agreed that termination of pregnancy should be permitted if there is evidence of a profound fetal abnormality;
  • 41 percent agreed that termination of pregnancy should be permitted if the woman believes it is in her and / or her family's best interest;
  • 3 percent felt that abortion in Ireland is not acceptable under any circumstances.

 *All figures are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 1002 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken December 3-8, 2009, at the behest of Marie Stopes International, a health care provider. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all adults from Ireland (ages 18+).