Support for unrestricted abortion is up significantly in the wake of a renewed debate over the issue in Canada and the United States, according to a new poll.
The survey from Forum Research found 60 per cent of Canadians 18 years and older believe abortion should be legal in all circumstances, up from 51 per cent in February. Another 30 per cent thought abortion should be legal in some cases, down from 37 per cent in the previous poll.
Just 8 per cent thought abortion should be illegal in all circumstances, down from 10 per cent in February.
The poll suggests a large chunk of Canadians have shifted from a belief that there should be some legal restrictions on abortion to supporting the status quo, which continues to be an absence of law regulating the practice.
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So what caused the shift?
"In the absence of anything else happening, it appears MP Stephen Woodworth's attempt to re-open the abortion debate had the effect of hardening opinion in favour of legal abortion," according to Forum president Lorne Bozinoff.
Woodworth's Motion 312 to study the definition of human life, which failed to pass despite garnering significant support from within the Tory caucus, was likely not the only factor involved in the shift in opinion.
Canadians are always interested in U.S. politics, and inflammatory comments from Republicans south of the border, such as those made by Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock, may have contributed more to the shift in opinion than Woodworth.
Rather than making extreme pronouncements about abortion and rape, Woodworth has said he tries to see the issue from the perspective of those who don't agree with him.
"If you simply go in with your truth and you fail to recognize the truths that others are concerned about, you won’t make that connection, you won’t develop that relationship and you won’t be listened to," Woodworth told the Catholic Register earlier this month. "If you cannot convince someone that a child is a human being before birth you are not going to convince them about abortion."
It seems, however, that Woodworth and his supporters have a lot of convincing to do.
The poll found even 47 per cent of Conservative voters believe abortion should be legal in all circumstances. Only 14 per cent of Tories thought the practice should be illegal in all cases.
Younger voters were most likely to support unrestricted access, presenting a mounting demographic challenge for the anti-abortion movement.
The only thing likely to cause a significant reversal in opinion might be a financial collapse. Support for restriction on abortion increased as incomes fell in the poll, with those making less than $20,000 per year most likely to believe the practice should be regulated or banned.
The fact that those at the lower end of the income spectrum are most opposed to abortion stands in striking contrast to a recent study from the University of California San Francisco. The survey found women who were denied an abortion in the U.S. were three times more likely to fall into poverty than those who got the procedure.
Of course, polls are fickle. While six in 10 Canadians say they support unregulated abortion, other polls suggest that when the question is phrased to ask about support for a law to regulate abortion in the final trimester, opinions change, according to Maclean's.
But it seems any new attempts by Conservative MPs to shift public opinion, notably Mark Warawa's motion aimed at condemning sex-selective abortion, are backfiring.
Will that stop them from trying? Don't bet on it.
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Peter Van Loan