March 6, 2017 5:45 pm
Updated: March 6, 2017 6:41 pm

Support for abortion rights strong in Canada, but Ipsos poll shows we are ‘middle of the pack’ globally

A protester holds a pro-choice sign at Victoria Park, in Halifax, during a demonstration for access to abortion services on the one-year anniversary of the death of Dr. Henry Morgentaler, May 29, 2014.

Andrew Vaughan/ The Canadian Press

Nearly four out of five Canadians believe abortion should be legal, a recent survey reveals, and Canadians still tend to have a more favourable attitude toward the procedure than our neighbours to the south.

The Ipsos poll, conducted ahead of International Women’s Day on March 8, shows 77 per cent of respondents feel abortion should be permitted. That’s down slightly (likely due to sampling) from 2016, but still higher than the global average of 71 per cent.

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Among those in favour of abortion rights in Canada, just over half (53 per cent) said the procedure should be permitted whenever a woman decides she wants it, while one in four (24 per cent) favoured some limits. If a woman has been raped, for instance, some respondents suggested she should then be able to choose to terminate her pregnancy.

While Canadian attitudes toward abortion have shifted toward a more pro-choice stance in recent decades, they are still less favourable than those in Sweden (87 per cent say abortion should be permitted), Belgium (also 87 per cent) and France (86 per cent).

“I think Canada likes to think of itself as a global leader in these kinds of issues,” noted Ipsos vice-president Sean Simpson.

“You see us at 77 per cent, but when you look at the chart that’s sort of middle of the pack.”

Reaching a ‘general consensus’

While some countries like Peru remain very divided on the issue (only 49 per cent of Peruvians feel abortion should be permitted),  Simpson said that Canadians have seemingly moved toward a general consensus, although it’s certainly not unanimous.

“Things have levelled off a little bit, but we’re still more progressive than we were 15 or 20 years ago, when roughly two in 10 thought that women should not be able to have access to abortion,” Simpson said.

“When Stephen Harper came into power, obviously for some of his constituents it was an important issue. He could read the tea leaves, and saw that really, there would not be a whole lot gained by re-opening the issue.”

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There remains a group, representing about five per cent of the Canadian population, that feels abortion should never be permitted under any circumstance, even if the life of the mother is at stake.

Another seven per cent told Ipsos that abortion should only be allowed when the life of the mother is in danger.

About one in 10 Canadians aren’t sure where they stand on the issue.

“I think a ‘don’t know’ is probably a proxy for ‘it depends,'” said Simpson.

“And it depends on more than the options that (Ipsos has) given … there’s a lot of nuance in some people’s mind when it comes to abortion.”

American attitudes

South of the border, the numbers are quite different.

In the United States, surveys have shown that 68 per cent of people believe abortion should be permitted to some extent, nearly 10 points lower than here in Canada.

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Twenty-two per cent of Americans remain opposed to the procedure, with 14 per cent saying it should only be allowed when the mother’s life is in danger, and nearly one in 10 (eight per cent) saying it should never be allowed.

“The opposition towards abortion is concentrated in the evangelical demographic, and that’s a demographic that is much more prevalent in the United States than it is here in Canada,” Simpson explained.

While the Catholic Church opposes abortion and around 40 per cent of Canadians are Catholic, he added, many of them don’t attend church on a weekly basis, and those that don’t tend to support the right to abortion.

In America, conversely, evangelicals are far more likely to adhere closely to their church’s teachings.

The Ipsos poll was conducted between Jan. 20 and Feb. 3, 2017 using a sample of 1,000 Canadians from Ipsos’s online panel interviewed online. Weighting was then employed to balance demographics to ensure that the sample’s composition reflects that of the adult population according to Census data and to provide results intended to approximate the sample universe. In this case, the poll is accurate to within +/ – 3.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, had all Canadian adults been polled.

© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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