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Sunday 13 October 2019

Support for suicide abortion down: Poll

FF leads over FG, no comfort for Labour, Martin most popular leader

Minister for Health James O'Reilly
Minister for Health James O'Reilly

Jody Corcoran, John Drennan

A SLIM majority (53 per cent) finds abortion acceptable in cases of a threat of suicide – down five points in three months, according to the latest Sunday Independent/ Millward Brown opinion poll.

The nationwide poll also finds strong support for abortion in 'distress' scenarios, such as in cases of rape (71 per cent), medical risk other than suicide (78 per cent) or threat to the long-term health of a mother (69 per cent).

However, the noticeable fall since February in support for abortion where there is a threat of suicide will be of concern to the Government – and Fine Gael in particular.

Beyond the abortion issue, the poll reveals a huge level of political disaffection among voters. Thirty-two per cent replied "Don't know" when presented with a range of options if a general election were to be held tomorrow.

When "don't knows" are excluded, party support is: Fianna Fail (26 per cent), down a point; Fine Gael (23 per cent), down a point; Sinn Fein (19 per cent), up three points; Labour (12 per cent), unchanged; Greens (1 per cent), down one point; independents (18 per cent), unchanged.

The poll shows voters to be more evenly divided on the suicide issue. This may be a reflection of the current fractious debate, which saw heated exchanges between experts at an Oireachtas committee hearing last week.

A breakdown of the poll shows that 70 per cent of Labour supporters back abortion in cases of suicidal ideation. This is significantly higher than among supporters of Fine Gael (53 per cent), Fianna Fail (51 per cent), Sinn Fein (52 per cent), and independents (55 per cent).

Above all, today's opinion poll shows that "the public wants a mature debate based on informed expert advice and does not necessarily have the stomach to be embroiled in all-out emotional trench warfare", according to Paul Moran, associate director with Millward Brown.

Today, Senator John Crown refers to the Supreme Court's decision in the X Case on the right to an abortion if a woman's life is at risk, including the risk of suicide, and argues that the people twice voted not to exclude suicidality as a threat to maternal life.

Senator Crown, a consultant oncologist, writes: "Not for the first time, an attempt is being made to overthrow and discard our constitutional system of republican government."

He continues: "A cabal of insurrectionists, sympathetic to the agents of a foreign state" – which he claims is the Vatican – is "plotting and executing a coup d'etat.

"This is not your standard tanks-on-the-Leinster House lawn type of coup, but a coup it is, nonetheless. It is, in fact, a thoroughly Irish coup."

The Government is expected to come under increased pressure to amend the proposed legislation for abortion in cases of a suicide threat after the master of the Rotunda Hospital, one of the State's biggest maternity hospitals, expressed concerns.

In strong exchanges in the Oireachtas last week, Dr Sam Coulter Smith said the inclusion in legislation of the suicide clause was not based upon evidence and posed major ethical dilemmas for obstetricians. He warned that it could lead to an increase in the number of women seeking terminations.

His statement has been welcomed by a group of Fine Gael TDs who are opposed to the threat of suicide as grounds for a termination in the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill.

However, the suicide clause has been supported by the master of the National Maternity Hospital, Dr Rhona Mahony, and its clinical director, Dr Peter Bacon, both of whom have disputed Dr Coulter Smith's assertions.

In relation to concerns expressed by the Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Diarmuid Martin, about the possibility of late terminations, Dr Mahony said there was no suggestion that a baby at 28-30 weeks of gestation would be killed.

However, Fine Gael Senator Fidelma Healy Eames has said that the absence of a time limit had created a "barbaric" scenario whereby "the life of a fully developed, healthy baby in the third trimester and up to 40 weeks gestation could be ended under Irish law."

The Sunday Independent/Millward Brown poll shows public support for abortion to be more strident in the "distress" scenarios that the proposed legislation will not cover, as in the Savita Halappanavar case.

However, support for more liberal abortion laws, where a mother decides to have an abortion for other reasons, is considered a step too far for many. Less than three in 10 (28 per cent) would support such a move.

As the emotive debate on abortion continues, the Government will take little satisfaction from other findings in today's poll.

Less than one in five is satisfied with the way the Government is running the country and a massive 73 per cent (down two points) are dissatisfied – rising to 83 per cent among 55- to 64-year-olds.

Satisfaction with party leaders also remains low. Fianna Fail's Micheal Martin is the most popular (34 per cent), while Fine Gael's Enda Kenny (26 per cent) is up a point. Labour's Eamon Gilmore (19 per cent) is up three points and Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams (28 per cent) is up five points.

Interestingly, almost as many Labour supporters are satisfied with the leadership of Mr Martin (42 per cent) as are with the leadership of Taoiseach Enda Kenny (45 per cent).

There is little good news for Labour in the poll. Just one in seven (14 per cent) believes Labour should continue in Coalition under current government policy; 30 per cent say Labour should stay in Government but renegotiate the Programme for Government. This rises to 47 per cent of Labour voters and that suggestion is also gaining traction among Fine Gael supporters, four in 10 of whom feel that such a renegotiation would be acceptable.

Just one in four believes Mr Gilmore should remain as Labour leader, rising to 58 per cent of Labour voters and 56 per cent of Fine Gael voters.

According to Paul Moran of Millward Brown: "Labour needs to turn its ship around soon, otherwise it may suffer the wrath of the electorate that is especially reserved for junior coalition partners." (See Page 20-21)

Interviews for the poll were conducted among a representative sample of 979 adults, face to face in the home, at 66 sampling points between May 5 and May 16.

Irish Independent

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