MaltaToday Survey | No change in Malta’s anti-abortion attitudes

The second survey in 17 months dealing with abortion finds little has changed apart from growing opposition to abortion if a mother’s life is in danger. Kurt Sansone reports

The findings show that 90.2% oppose unrestricted abortion in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy with 5.2% in favour
The findings show that 90.2% oppose unrestricted abortion in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy with 5.2% in favour

Just 17 months after a majority agreed with abortion if a mother’s life is in danger, the tide has turned, a new MaltaToday survey shows.

A majority of 45.5% now disagree with abortion if a mother’s life is in danger, an upswing of almost 19 points since another poll in February 2018.

Last year, a MaltaToday survey had found that abortion enjoyed majority support only when the mother’s life was in danger.

Nonetheless, this remains the circumstance in which abortion is most agreeable with 37.4% supporting the termination of a pregnancy, a drop of eight points since last year.

The shift against abortion in this circumstance was the most notable difference over the 17 months with the latest findings broadly confirming the overwhelming anti-abortion attitudes from the 2018 poll.

Another significant change was a seven-point increase in the opposition to abortion in cases of rape. Those who oppose pregnancy termination in this circumstance now stand at 78.5%.

But unlike the circumstance when a woman’s life is in danger, those who agree with abortion in rape cases remained relatively static at 14.6%.

Most of the other changes recorded in the latest survey are relatively insignificant because they fall within the margin of error.

The findings show that 90.2% oppose unrestricted abortion in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy with 5.2% in favour.

Opposition weakens slightly when people were asked whether they agreed with abortion in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy in certain circumstances. Meanwhile 87.5% disagreed with abortion irrespective of the circumstances, 9.2% agreed.

A resounding majority (97.2%) disagree with unrestricted abortion at whatever stage of the pregnancy, with only 1.4% favouring complete liberalisation.

The survey also asked whether people agreed with abortion in particular circumstances. Support for abortion is highest when the mother’s life is in danger, followed by a circumstance that sees the child suffering from a severe disability.

The findings show that 90.2% oppose unrestricted abortion in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy with 5.2% in favour

The findings showed that 20.2% of people agreed with abortion if the child is suffering from a severe disability, a slight uptick of almost two points since February 2018.

Opposition to abortion in this circumstance stood at 64.9%, a drop of 2.5 points, while those who were unsure stood at 14.9%.

This was a point of much controversy in the run-up to the European Parliament election campaign when far-right candidate Norman Lowell suggested on TV, abortion in cases where the child was suffering from a debilitating disability. His comments were heavily criticised with the Commissioner for the Rights of Disabled Persons, Oliver Scicluna, reporting Lowell to the police.

Opposition to abortion is also strong in those cases were the mother is under 16 years of age and a child herself.

The results showed that 91.5% disagreed with abortion in this circumstance, a two-point drop since February 2018. Only 5.2% agreed with abortion if the mother is under-16, an upward tick of two points.

Abortion viewed more favourably among young

Attitudes towards abortion are more favourable among  those aged under-35, although a majority still oppose abortion in all circumstances bar one.

Almost half of under-35s (49.7%) agree with abortion if the mother’s life is in danger as opposed to 32.1% who disagree. There is also a very slim majority in favour of abortion in this circumstance among those aged between 36 and 50 with 43% in favour and 42.4% against.

The attitude among those aged 51 and over was against abortion with opposition growing stronger among elderly people.

In those cases where the baby is going to be born with a severe disability, more than a quarter (27.4%) of those aged between 18 and 35 agree with abortion while 52.1% disagree.

Among middle-aged voters (36-50), 24% agree with abortion in this circumstance and 58.9% disagree.

Opposition to abortion in this case is strongest among those aged 51 and over with disagreement running at a maximum of 79% among those aged 65 and over.

A quarter of the younger generation (25.4%) agree with abortion in rape cases but 65.6% disagree. Opposition to abortion as a result of rape runs above 90% among the older generations (51+).

Support for abortion drops to even lower levels across all age groups, in circumstances when the mother is under-16.

On a regional basis, opposition to abortion during the first three months of pregnancy and only in particular circumstances, is absolute in Gozo.

Disagreement with abortion runs between 85.3% and 89.8% across all other regions in Malta. The strongest support for abortion in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy (in particular circumstances) is found in the Northern Harbour region where 12.1% of people agree.

Methodology

The survey was carried out between Tuesday 25 June and Monday 1 July. 653 respondents opted to complete the survey. Stratified random sampling based on gender, region and age was used to replicate the Maltese demographics. The estimated margin of error is 5% for a confidence interval of 95%.

Abortion over the past 17 months

The February 2018 survey provided a comprehensive look at society’s attitudes towards abortion at a time when the human rights commissioner of the Council of Europe had urged Malta to facilitate access to safe and legal abortion.

The survey showed overwhelming opposition to abortion, irrespective of the circumstances. The only exception at the time was if the mother’s life was in danger, with a relative majority supporting abortion in this circumstance.

In March last year, the Women’s Rights Foundation called for abortion to be legalised in those circumstances where it is necessary to save a woman’s life, preserve a woman’s physical and mental health, in cases of rape and incest, and when there is fatal impairment of the foetus.

Ostensibly, this was the first time that a group of women had come out with a clear public position paper in favour of abortion.

A year later, the foundation joined other groups to set up a pro-choice coalition called Voice for Change to campaign for the legalisation of abortion.

This was followed last May with the creation of a group called Doctors for Choice that brought together healthcare professionals who agree with abortion.

At the same time, more than 670 doctors signed a declaration making known their anti-abortion stand.

Abortion cropped up as an issue in the European Parliament election campaign when the Nationalist Party accused the Labour Party of supporting the Socialists and Democrats that included access to abortion in their manifesto.

The PL insisted the EU did not have and could never have competence on abortion and it was up to Maltese legislators to decide on the matter if and when it ever arose.

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has repeatedly said the government has no mandate to introduce abortion and it was not on the agenda.

It was within this developing context that the latest survey measured once again the attitudes of the Maltese on abortion.

More in Data & Surveys