This post first appeared on Jim Jepps’ blog
While there are many Conservatives who are in favour of the current abortion time limits it seems that if you’re a cabinet member you are at liberty to express a personal opinion on reducing, or even halving, the limit. If Hunt has his way around 17,000 women a year who have abortions after 13 weeks will be past the legal limit and will face either carrying an unwanted pregnancy or an illegal abortion.

It’s certainly not a prospect I’d relish and it would be a massive blow to a woman’s right to control her own body.

However, it’s worth looking at what the UK population think about reducing the time limit, and as luck would have it the polling organisation YouGov provides us with a snapshot of public opinion (pdf, page 12) which is, broadly, in line with previous polling on the subject. I want to take a look at the numbers of a minute as there are some surprising results.


There’s no great desire for a change in the law

The headline figure is that the people do not, on the whole, want a change in the law and only 1 in 20 want to ban abortion altogether.

39% are for the current term limit, or for it to be increased.

37% are for reducing that limit.

6% are for banning abortion altogether.

17% aren’t sure. That high, but not unexpected on an issue like this where many often feel conflicted between a personal distaste for abortion and wanting to protect women’s rights.


Women are the most “pro-life”

It doesn’t surprise me but it seems to be common currency among feminists that women are pro-choice and men dominate the pro-life movement. We know that women are more likely to be religious than men and make up the majority of converts to Islam and Catholicism in this country – so it shouldn’t be a shock to see that they carry these religious beliefs into the abortion debate.

24% of men want to reduce the time limit while a whacking 49% of women want a reduction.

45% of men are for the current law or extending the time limit compared to a still significant 35% of women.

It looks like if the decision on abortion time limits was left to women alone we would see a restriction on women’s rights. I’d be opposed to leaving the decision to women alone not just because it would mean a restriction, which I disagree with, but mainly because I don’t think any of us has the right to tell anyone what they should do with their body.

Just because you’re a woman it does not give you any rights over a different woman’s body and your say should never be prioritised over the specific woman concerned.


Some surprising results in the “don’t know” column

This is possibly the only issue that I’ve ever seen more men saying they don’t know the answer than women. On most subjects men are only too willing to hold forth, no matter how uninformed, while women can be more cautious about giving a firm opinion, no matter how informed on the topic. 23% of men said they didn’t know and 12% of women (1 in 8 to 1 in 4 respectively).

Even more surprising Liberal Democrats were the most likely to have an opinion. When does that happen that the notorious fence sitters are the firmest on any subject? Well good for them – 7% of Lib Dems “didn’t know” compared to 16% and 15% for Tories and Labour.


The North South divide

There’s no significant difference of opinion across English regions and Wales – but there does appear to be a bigger difference than from across the Scottish border.

46% of Scots want to keep the law as is or extend the limit compared to just 39% in England and Wales.

33% of Scots were for restricting the time limit compared to 37% in England and Wales.

Both countries saw a consistent 6% for a ban.


Political affiliation shocker

I bet you didn’t know this either – Labour supporters are the group *most* likely to want to restrict abortion and the *least* likely to want to keep the law as it is or extend the time limit.

Conservatives were on 44% for keeping the limit or extending it, 35% for reducing the time limit, and 6% for banning altogether

For Labour voters we have 39% for the current law or better, 38% for reducing the time limit, and 8% for banning abortion.

Lib Dem voters are 57% for keeping the limit or extending it, 32% for reducing the time limit, and just 4% for an outright ban.


Of course this polling is a snap shot of people’s opinion, if a consistent one – this does not mean that people’s minds cannot be changed. With government ministers leading an unofficial assault on a woman’s right to choose it’s vital that pro-choice campaigners do their best to ensure they don’t lose ground. It’s useful to know what the most pro-choice demographic is (male, Lib Dems in Scotland… I think he lives in Inverness) and who needs more work (women, Labour voters).

I also think it’s worth trying to ensure that those who are for a reduction in time limits see themselves as firmly “pro-choice” rather than the wet end of the anti-abortion movement. Isolating that 6% of people who want to ban abortion altogether seems to me to be most crucial task, ensuring that movements like 40 days for life are seen with the genuine disgust they deserve even by those who are opposed to abortion but who are opposed to harassing women even more.