A majority of Australians support laws that enable women to
access late abortion, depending on the circumstances, according to research
published in the Medical Journal of Australia.
Dr Lachlan de Crespigny, Prof Julian Savulescu and
colleagues from the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics at the University
of Oxford, UK, report an anonymous survey of 1050 Australians aged 18 years or
older between 28 and 31 July 2008. It was conducted by Crosby/Textor, a leading
public opinion research firm.
Their study found a high level of support for access to
early abortion, with 87 per cent of respondents indicating that abortion should
be lawful in the first trimester.
In addition, Dr de Crespigny said that Australians did not
support penalising of doctors who performed late abortions. In a wide range of
clinical and social circumstances described in the survey, a majority of
respondents believed that doctors should not face professional sanctions for
performing abortion after 24 weeks' gestation.
"When asked to consider specific, realistic situations in
which late abortion might be considered, many respondents opposed sanctions
against doctors, particularly when abortion is sought because of maternal or
fetal complications rather than personal reasons," Dr de Crespigny said.
He said the data suggested that single general questions,
which had been used in previous surveys, provided a limited view of community
attitudes to abortion.
"Simple yes/no polls do not allow people to accurately
express the subtlety of their views in the complex range of clinical and social
situations in which access to abortion might be sought," Dr de Crespigny said.
"The sensitivity of Australians' views on abortion to
contextual details may have implications for other debates about ethics.
"People are much less black and white about ethical
questions when they are provided with specific details and asked to think about
what they would want for themselves or family members. The more permissive
attitude elicited when context was provided in our study may, for example,
carry over to debates about euthanasia, the use of medicine or technology for
human enhancement, organ donation, and embryonic stem cell research."
Prof Savulescu, a Sir Louis Matheson Visiting Professor at
Monash University, said: "Abortion must be decriminalised. Early abortion
should be freely and easily available on request. Late abortion should be
freely and easily available, at least for those who have a valid justification.
"Abortion is a crime in at least some circumstances in all
Australian jurisdictions except for Victoria and ACT. Criminal abortion laws
should be repealed and abortion available on demand. It is time to take a more
ethical approach to abortion. It is a valid part of family planning."
The Medical Journal of Australia
is a publication
of the Australian Medical Association.