Poll reveals public opposition to decriminalising abortion

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A majority of the public do not support MPs' proposals to decriminalise abortion, new polling has found.

In the survey of 2,011 UK adults by Whitestone Insight, 55 per cent agreed that abortion should remain illegal beyond the current 24-week limit. Only 16 per cent support changing the status quo.

Women were more likely than men to believe it should remain illegal (57 per cent versus 54 per cent), and over three-quarters (71 per cent) said that a year-long prison sentence for a woman who aborted her baby between 32 and 34 weeks was "about right or too short".

The plans are contained in an amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill tabled by Diana Johnson, Labour chair of the home affairs committee. The amendment says that women who end their abortions beyond the legal time limit of 24 weeks should not be prosecuted.

A contrasting amendment from Tory MP Caroline Ansell proposes lowering the abortion limit to 22 weeks. Supporters say this would bring the UK's legal limit in line with advances in medical science which have led to more extremely premature babies surviving.

Spokesperson for Right To Life UK, Catherine Robinson, said, "The extreme change to the law proposed by Diana Johnson would remove current offences that prevent women from performing their own abortions throughout all nine months of pregnancy.

"This would allow healthy babies to be aborted for any reason, including sex-selective purposes, right up to birth.

"It would likely lead to a tragic increase in the number of babies' lives being ended through late-term abortions performed at home, as well as the lives of many more women being endangered.

"This extreme and radical abortion law has no place in the UK. This polling clearly shows that the public do not support this change to the law. We are calling on MPs to reject Johnson's amendment."

The latest polling reflects the findings of past surveys by SavantaComRes which also found that a majority of the public support lowering the legal time limit for abortion. 

The time limit was last changed in 1990 when it was lowered from 28 weeks to 24 weeks as a result of improved survival rates for extremely premature babies.