Two-thirds of adults now agree with abortion on request, twice as many as two years ago, according to a new Mori poll.
The pro-choice Birth Control Trust, which commissioned the poll of almost 1,000 adults, says its findings prove that MPs, one-third of whom take a tough line on abortion, have not identified with the public's feelings.
The last time a comparable survey was taken was in 1993 by Gallup, on behalf of the pro-life organisation the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child. That suggested 31 per cent believe abortion should be available on demand, compared with 27 per cent five years earlier.
A spokesman for SPUC yesterday claimed the increase was due to the wording of the question.This invited people to decide whether "abortion should be available at the request of the woman, provided she has thought about the matter carefully and discussed it with her doctor", implying there was a medical reason. The SPUC poll had been more starkly worded.
But Ann Furedi, director of the Birth Control Trust, said that although the wording could have an effect, there were more important reasons: "The majority has now accepted abortion is a legitimate option for a woman in early pregnancy, where it would be barbaric to force her to continue with the pregnancy and give birth.
"There has also been high- profile discussion of unwanted births with teenage pregnancies and young single mothers... The abortion option has come to be understood as the lesser evil in that context."
One in five of all conceptions ends in abortion - 34 per cent of single women's pregnancies and 8 per cent of married women's. In 1993 157,843 abortions were carried out in England and Wales.
A recent survey of MPs' views on abortion in The House Magazine, the weekly parliamentary publication, found 34 per cent felt abortion should be illegal, or restricted.
In the Mori poll, 70 per cent of Conservatives, 65 per cent of Labour supporters and 72 per cent of Liberal Democrats backed abortion on demand.
Jane Roe, campaign manager for the Abortion Law Reform Association, said: "We've known for a long time the public agreed with abortion on request, but it's the first time it's been asked so clearly". But Nuala Scarisbrick, of Life, an anti-abortion charity, disagreed: "Compared with 10 years ago the feeling among young people is very much pro-life".Reuse content