Abortion extremism in decline, study finds

Fifteen per cent of Australians surveyed believe a woman should be allowed to abort a foetus if it is the “wrong” sex, a survey has found.

Asked if abortion should be permitted if parents wanted a child of the other sex, 6per cent said it should be allowed and 9per cent said it should probably be allowed. And 2per cent said parents should be allowed an abortion in order to choose a child who would be a great athlete or intellectually brilliant.

The figures are based on an analysis of the 1996-97 International Social Science Surveys Australia by researchers from the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research.

The national sample of 2151 people was compared with a sample of 3012 people taken in 1984-85.

Researchers found only 1per cent “definitely” thought abortion should never be available, and a further 2per cent “probably” opposed abortions under all circumstances.

Extremism of both kinds has declined over the past decade, with fewer people holding absolute views for or against abortion.

“Instead of an intractable conflict between entrenched positions pro and con, we see a full spectrum of opinion with the majority near the centre,” said a report on the findings in the Australian Social Monitor.

A big majority said abortion should definitely or probably be allowed in dire circumstances such as danger to the mother’s health (97per cent), pregnancy following rape (92per cent) or strong likelihood of a serious birth defect (88per cent).

Most also supported the availability of abortion in difficult social circumstances such as poverty (69per cent), unwed motherhood (68per cent) or couples wanting no more children (65per cent).

The report said: “Very few Australians think abortions should be prohibited (although many theologians would disagree) but, equally, very few believe that a woman has an absolute right to an abortion (although many feminists and some moral philosophers would disagree).

“Rather, most Australians view abortion as somewhat of a bad thing in itself but justifiable if it avoids something even worse.”

Older people were less opposed to abortion than younger people.

A co-author of the report, Dr Mariah Evans, a senior research fellow with the Melbourne Institute, speculates that people’s views might change as they age and become exposed to more life experiences.

First published in The Age.