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Do Scots hold more conservative views on abortion?

Posted on 11 January 2016 by Line Knudsen, Senior Researcher (Longitudinal) .
Tags: Scottish Social Attitudes

On 9th November an amendment to the Scotland Bill 2015-16 which makes abortion a devolved matter was passed in the House of Commons. This caused a bit of a stir, both north and south of the border. Although there have been some suggestions that devolution could be an opportunity to pursue further liberalisation of abortion law, in the main there appears to be an assumption (and, amongst some, a concern) that devolution could lead to more restrictive abortion legislation in Scotland. Often, these assumptions seem to be based on a notion of Holyrood as more open to outside lobbying, but also on a notion of Scotland being more socially conservative than England. As one spokeswoman for the Pro-Life Alliance told the Herald: “Scotland has always been more conservative on pro-life issues, whether that's euthanasia or abortion.”

But does the notion that Scots are more conservative on abortion hold up to scrutiny?

In 2000 and 2010 the British and Scottish Social Attitudes surveys asked people across both Scotland and England whether they thought it is right or wrong for a woman to have an abortion in two circumstances: 1) if there is a strong chance of a serious defect in the baby, and 2) if the family has a very low income and cannot afford any more children. This data showed little difference in attitudes to abortion north and south of the border (Table 1). In 2010, for example, the proportion of people who said a termination would be wrong in a situation where the family could not afford to have any more children was almost identical in the two countries (34 per cent in Scotland vs 35 per cent in England).

 

Table 1: Attitudes towards abortion, Scotland and England, 2000 and 2010

 

 

 

 

 

 

Scotland

England

 

 

2000

2010

2000

2010

Have abortion if strong chance of defect in baby

%

%

%

%

   Always/almost always wrong

16

16

13

15

   Not wrong at all

52

50

58

52

Have abortion if family cannot afford any more children

 

 

 

 

   Always/almost always wrong

38

34

36

35

   Not wrong at all

28

29

31

28

Base

1506

1366

2515

773

           

 

Thus, evidence from the British and Scottish Social Attitudes surveys does not seem to support the assumption that Scots hold more conservative attitudes on abortion than people south of the border (nor that attitudes have changed much in either country since 2000).

Attitudes could, of course, have shifted since 2010. However, a recent Survation poll carried out for Abortion Rights Edinburgh found broad support for abortion to remain available in Scotland, with only 14 per cent saying they would like abortion to be made less available. As such, whatever changes may have occurred there is little to suggest that Scots have become extraordinarily more conservative in their attitudes to abortion.

It seems, then, that whatever political pressures may exist to make abortion less available in Scotland, any such moves are unlikely to be driven (or even backed up) by public demand.

 

 

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