Leslie Cannold, a prominent Australian abortion advocate has stated in an ABC radio interview that a small minority of only 4-9% of Australians believe abortion should not be available. I often hear these kinds of figures, yet have found little to substantiate them. After some thorough googling, placing an emphasis on research undertaken by abortion advocacy groups, I found the following.
The Australian Reproductive Health Alliance (ARHA), in 2004 state the less than 5% of the Australian population oppose abortion under any circumstances and go on to quote the Public Health Association as saying, "It is overwhelmingly clear that the majority of Australians support liberal access to abortion".
Interestingly, ARHA later state that only just over 80% of Australians are 'prochoice', identifying 13.8% of Australians as disagreeing or strongly disagreeing that abortion should be available. The remaining 7.3% either responded 'don't know' or didn't respond at all.
This report also shows that only 54.2% of people agree that abortion should be 'readily available when they want one', as opposed to 34.5% who believe abortion should be allowed 'only in special circumstances', however these circumstances are not detailed.
A later study in 2008, undertaken by Lachlan de Crespigny and associates asks a variety of questions addressing very specific circumstances of women. This study indicates that only 61% of Australians agree that that abortion should be legal, without condition in the first trimester, with a further 26% believing restrictions should be in place according to circumstances. By the third trimester the number of people believing abortion should be available without restriction drops to a low 6% with a further 42% agreeing about availability dependent on circumstances. The percentage of people believing abortion should be illegal regardless of circumstances increase with each trimester, 12%, 28% and 48%.
Further information about the kinds of circumstances that are important to people's beliefs become apparent when people are asked whether doctors should face professional sanctions for performing abortions after 24 weeks gestation. Whilst the discussion states that the majority of respondents do not support sanctions against doctors, the numbers who do are highly significant and do not support the idea that the publicly are generally accepting of abortion.
With a minimum of 11% of respondents believing doctors should face sanctions for post 24 week abortions and 11% responding 'can't say' and up to 45% wanting sanctions and 28% responding 'can't say' for reasons of psychosocial concerns, there does not appear to be the widespread support for abortion that abortion advocates claim, particularly as pregnancy progresses.
With significantly less than half of all respondents believing abortion should be lawful after 24 weeks for reasons of abuse, economics, economics or other social reasons, and from 23-28% declining to answer, one wonders how legislation making abortion legal until birth, for any reason actually came about.
It seems that even when looking at the research conducted by abortion advocates, and abortion advocacy organisations, the stated support for abortion is wildly exaggerated, with significant numbers of people expressing a desire for abortion to not be available at all for many circumstances, particularly in later gestations. The percentage of people stating that they are unable to respond suggests some ambivalence about, or perhaps not enough knowledge about abortion for significant numbers as well.
The reason this is important is that many people who express concern about abortion and the circumstances that lead women to consider abortion, are often silenced and stigmatised as being 'out of step' with public opinion and misogynistic. The fact is that those who question are actually in the majority, but are often too afraid to speak. Questioning the social failings toward women in challenging circumstances during pregnancy is not a sign of hating women. To the contrary, it expresses a much deeper compassion to women than forcing her to make a decision she may not be happy or comfortable with, labeling it her 'choice' and then expecting her to only speak positively about it later.