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New survey reveals that most religious people are not anti-abortion

Date: 13/02/2013

New survey reveals that most religious people are not anti-abortion

Overall, the views of people with religious affiliations on abortion are not markedly different from the general view, according to a survey commission for the Westminster Faith Debates.

The new YouGov survey found that 43 per cent of people who identify with a religion are in favour of keeping or raising the current 24 week limit (compared with 46 per cent of the general population), 30 per cent would like to see it lowered (compared with 28 per cent), and nine per cent support a ban (compared with seven per cent). The remainder of people say they ‘don't know’.

These findings have been published ahead the first in a series of debates 'Stem cell research, abortion and the ‘soul of the embryo’?'. Chaired by the Rt Hon Charles Clarke and Prof Linda Woodhead the event will bring together a range of religious and secular voices to discuss controversial issues, informed by recent research and new findings. The Westminster Faith Debates bring research on religion into public debate, supported by the AHRC, the Economic and Social Research Council and Lancaster University.

Even though the Roman Catholic Church teaches that abortion is always wrong and should be illegal, only 14 per cent of Catholics in this country are in favour of a ban.

A significant number of people believe that human life begins at conception, but this does not necessarily mean they are opposed to abortion. Forty-one per cent of people believe that human life begins at conception, 30 per cent at some time during pregnancy, 17 per cent when the baby is born, and eight per cent ‘don't know’.

Surprisingly, even amongst those who believe that human life begins at conception, most believe that abortion should be legal. Over three quarters believe that abortion is acceptable in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, and half of believers feel that abortion should be allowed at least up to 20 weeks.

Amongst the religious people surveyed, Catholics, Muslims and Baptists are the most hostile to abortion, but only about half would like to see the law changed. Fourteen per cent of Catholics surveyed support a ban and 33 per cent would like to see the 24 week limit lowered. Thirty per cent of Muslims surveyed support a ban and 16 per cent would like to see the 24 week limit lowered.

Those who rely on external religious sources for guidance, and whose religion offers an anti-abortion message, are the most likely to be hostile to abortion.

 

The survey finds that factors like gender, age and voting preference do not make much difference to attitudes to abortion. The people most likely to be hostile to abortion are those:

  • who believe in God with most certainty
  • rely most strongly on scripture or religious teachings for guidance
  • whose religion has a strong anti-abortion message

 

Only eight per cent of the population fits this profile, and of this eight per cent one third support a ban on abortion.

The survey finds that most people in Great Britain —including religious people – rely most on their own judgment or feelings or the advice of family and friends for guidance.

Amongst the population as a whole, anti-abortion sentiment is declining and support for current abortion law is growing

Comparisons with earlier YouGov polls reveal that the percentage of the population who would like to see a ban on abortion has fallen from 12 per cent in 2005 to seven per cent today. Of those who expressed a view, support for keeping (or even relaxing) the current 24 week limit has risen by about one-third to a clear majority (57 per cent) today.

Notes to editors

For further information, please contact:

Professor Linda Woodhead, Lancaster University: 07764 566090 l.woodhead@lancs.ac.uk

Danielle Moore-Chick, AHRC: 01793 416021 d.moore-chick@ahrc.ac.uk

  • The current legal limit for abortion is 24 weeks. According to the latest Department of Health abortion statistics (for 2011), 91 per cent of abortions were carried out at under 13 weeks gestation, and 78per cent at under 10 weeks. The most recent data were published in May 2012 by the Department of Health in Abortion Statistics, England and Wales, 2011, available at: https://www.wp.dh.gov.uk/transparency/files/2012/05/Commentary1.pdf
  • All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 4,437 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 25th - 30th January 2013.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).
  • The Westminster Faith debates are organised by Charles Clarke and Linda Woodhead and supported by Lancaster University, the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the Economic and Social Research Council. They are designed to bring high-quality academic research on religion into public debate. http://www.religionandsociety.org.uk/faith_debates
  • The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funds world-class, independent researchers in a wide range of subjects: ancient history, modern dance, archaeology, digital content, philosophy, English literature, design, the creative and performing arts, and much more. This financial year the AHRC will spend approximately £98m to fund research and postgraduate training in collaboration with a number of partners. The quality and range of research supported by this investment of public funds not only provides social and cultural benefits but also contributes to the economic success of the UK.
  • The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK's largest organisation for funding research on economic and social issues. It supports independent high quality research which has an impact on business, the public sector and the third sector. The ESRC's total budget for 2012/13 is £205 million. At any one time the ESRC supports over 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions and independent research institutes.

 

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