Survey misrepresents values

ABC’s Compass online survey draws some interesting, but incredibly flawed conclusions on a number of issues, but particularly on the issue of support for abortion law in Victoria.  A single question, ‘How restrictive should abortion laws be in Victoria?’ elicits a range of responses from ‘Much less’ to ‘much more’.

As at the 23rd November, the survey had received around 60,000 responses with 14% stating that they wanted more restrictive abortion laws, 38% supporting current legislation, and 44% wanting fewer restrictions.

I can see abortion advocates jumping up and down with delight that they have yet a new survey to support their push for more abortion, yet given what we know about the level of knowledge the general public actually has about abortion law, it is irresponsible to present this data as in any way a reflection of community values about abortion.

Only this week, I have received 2 more website enquiries about late term abortion in Victoria, both from people stating a prochoice position, and both horrified at what they read in a report available on our site.  They contacted me to question its accuracy and to express their personal horror that they really hadn’t know this was possible.

In Victoria in 2011 alone, 10 late term abortions were carried out after 28 weeks of pregnancy, and 1 was undertaken after 37 weeks.   Some of the general public would be okay with this if they believed this was an issue of the mother’s life being at risk, or the unborn baby having a condition erroneously called ‘incompatible with life’.  However very few are comfortable with the fact that all of these aborted babies were physically healthy, and terminated for psychosocial reasons, not health reasons of the mother.

In fact, for the last decade, more than half of all late term abortions in Victoria have been undertaken for psychosocial reasons, not physical health reasons.  When I present this accurate, evidence based data at events, whether they are general public community events, medical conferences, or university talks, I am inevitably met with looks of shock as people learn for the first time what the law on abortion actually is.  They are further shocked when they learn the reasons women are having abortions, and the fact that abortion is even available as an apparent solution to these issues.

In a study undertaken by practitioners of abortion  a very different set of community values is revealed when people are presented with actual circumstances that women may present for abortion.  These researchers asked a variety of questions addressing very specific circumstances of women.  This study indicates that only 61% of Australians agree  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%.

On an issue that people can feel very strongly about, it is vitally important that perceptions of people not be misrepresented as they have been by the Compass survey, particularly when such data is then touted as accurately representing values.

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