Published Wednesday, 29 August 2012
The abortion debate was reignited after Jim Wells spoke out in a radio debate. (© Pacemaker)
Abortion is illegal in Northern Ireland, except if the mother's life or mental health is at serious risk, and a spotlight was again thrown on the issue when Jim Wells said rape victims shouldn't be exempt.
The South Down MLA and future health minister insisted that the unborn child was the "ultimate victim" and should not be punished by termination when adoption was possible.
But, according to a survey carried out on behalf of the Family Planning Association, only one in five people share views similar to those of Mr Wells.
The laws on abortion in Northern Ireland are governed by the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act - it was invented before the lightbulb and before women could vote ...
Family Planning Association
When asked if abortion should be legal in cases of rape or incest, 59% of the nearly 1,400 respondents said yes - 18% said no, while the rest didn't know.
When asked if abortion should be legal in cases where the baby is at risk of serious and permanent defects, 42% said yes - 32% said no, while the rest didn't know.
Pro-life campaigners have said that the survey is not representative of public support.
"We've found that when people are given all the facts about abortion, they agree that it is never right to take the life of an unborn child under any circumstances," a Precious Life spokesperson said.
"Abortion cannot 'undo' a rape, it only kills the child. Our focus should be on harsher sentences for rapists, not imposing the death penalty on an innocent child."
The killing of an unborn child - even if conceived through rape or incest - is always wrong.
In the wake of Mr Wells' comments, the DUP moved to clarify the party's stance on the issue.
A spokesman said: "The DUP has consistently opposed the extension of the 1967 Abortion Act to Northern Ireland - a view which has been endorsed by the Northern Ireland public and is shared by almost all main political parties in the province.
"We would like to see as few abortions carried out as possible, but recognise that a small number of abortions are legally carried out in Northern Ireland and victims of rape may be included within this."
An anonymous survey of Stormont MLAs found that 66% of politicians agreed that abortion should be allowed in cases of rape, although only 36 MLAs responded.
"The woman is the victim and only the woman can decide what to do with the pregnancy," Audrey Simpson, director of the Family Planning Association, said.
"Not Mr Wells, not anybody else - not me, not you. Only the woman can decide."
She stressed that the Family Planning Association is pro-choice rather than pro-abortion and that it provides counselling which explores all available options and their consequences - not advice.
"I think you should ... We don't use those words," Ms Simpson added.
Mr Wells was unavailable for comment as he is currently on holiday.