Abortion and Other News

Our lead religious statistical news story today concerns the first release of data from the YouGov poll specially commissioned for the 2013 series of Westminster Faith Debates, which commences tomorrow. There will be further releases of data in connection with every debate, each covering a specific area of religion and personal life.


A new survey has revealed that most religious people are not against abortion and that their views on the topic are not markedly different from those of the public as a whole. The research (in which 4,437 adult Britons were interviewed online on 25-30 January 2013) was commissioned from YouGov by Professor Linda Woodhead of Lancaster University in connection with the 2013 series of Westminster Faith Debates, which Woodhead has organized in conjunction with Rt Hon Charles Clarke.

According to the poll, 43% of people who identify with a religion are in favour of keeping or raising the current 24-week upper time limit on abortions (compared with 46% of the general population), 30% would like to see it lowered (28%), and 9% support a complete ban on abortion (7%). The remainder is undecided.

Of particular faith traditions, Catholics, Muslims, and Baptists are the most hostile to abortion, but still only about half of them would like to see the law on abortion changed. Even though the Roman Catholic Church teaches that abortion is always wrong, just 14% of Catholics in this country favour a ban, with 33% wanting to see the 24-week limit lowered. Among Muslims 30% support a ban and 16% would like to see the 24-week limit reduced.

Standard (secular) demographics – such as gender, age, and voting preference – do not make much difference to attitudes to abortion. Individuals most likely to be opposed to it are those: who believe in God with most certainty, who rely most heavily on scripture or religious teachings for guidance in their daily life, and whose religion has a strong anti-abortion message. A mere 8% of the population fits this profile, and of this 8% no more than one-third endorse a ban on abortion.  

Among the population as a whole, anti-abortion sentiment is declining and support for current abortion law is growing. Comparisons with earlier YouGov polls reveal that the percentage of adults who would like to see a ban on abortion has fallen from 12% in 2005 to 7% today. Of those who express a view, support for keeping (or even relaxing) the current 24-week limit has risen by about one-third to a clear majority (57%) today.

The full press release about the abortion results of the survey is available at:    


In an interview with Ben Quinn of The Guardian, Woodhead has commented: ‘The impression one gets from many religious leaders and spokespeople is that most religious people are opposed to the liberalising trend in society. That is just not true and statistics like this give the lie to that view.’ For The Guardian’s coverage, go to:


The poll findings have been released in connection with the first of the 2013 series of Westminster Faith Debates, on ‘Stem cell research, abortion and the “soul of the embryo”?’ This takes place tomorrow (13 February 2013). However, BRIN readers should note that the debate is full, although names are still being taken for a reserve list.

Anti-Semitic incidents, 2012

The number of anti-Semitic incidents in the UK rose by 5% in 2012, to reach 640, the third highest total since records began in 1984, according to Antisemitic Incidents Report, 2012, published by the Community Security Trust (CST) on 7 February 2013. However, the figure of 640 included ‘100 anonymised incident reports provided by the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) as part of an incident data exchange programme introduced between CST and MPS in London in 2012. Removing these 100 “extra” incidents – which had been reported to MPS but not directly to CST – to give a “like for like” comparison with 2011, suggests an 11 per cent fall in real terms in the UK-wide antisemitic incident total in 2012.’ Abusive behaviour accounted for the majority of incidents in 2012 (73%), followed by assaults (10%), damage and desecration (8%), and threats (6%). Eighty incidents involved the use of internet-based social media, compared to just 12 in 2011. The 32-page report, containing exhaustive quantitative and qualitative analysis, is available at:


Believing in belonging

BRIN readers may like to know that a paperback version of Abby Day’s acclaimed 2011 book Believing in Belonging: Belief and Social Identity in the Modern World was published by Oxford University Press on 7 February 2013 (ISBN 978-0-19-967355-1, £25.00). It has a certain topicality in helping to unpack the results of the recently-released religion census of England and Wales in 2011 through its research into ‘performative, nominalist Christianity’ in the 2001 census. Indeed, the central ‘puzzle’ which underpins the work is, considering ‘all forms of public Christian religious participation have been declining for at least the last fifty years’, ‘why would so many non-religious people choose to claim a Christian identity on the census?’ The conundrum is explored by means of a critical reappraisal of the secondary literature (empirical and theoretical) and by qualitative interviews undertaken in North Yorkshire between 2002 and 2005. The 2001 census features particularly in chapters 3 and 9. One of Day’s findings is that, when asked how they had recorded their religious identity at the 2001 census, ‘half of my informants who answered “Christian” were either agnostics or atheists, who either overtly disavowed religion or at least never incorporated religion, Christianity, God, or Jesus into our discussions. They were … functionally godless and ontologically anthropocentric.’   Day feels that the language, form, and location of the questions used in the 2001 census (they varied between the home nations) may have contributed to ‘a false picture of an enduring Christian Britain’ by breaking ‘a number of fairly rudimentary rules about questionnaire design’. Likewise, there are useful summaries in the book of the background to the taking of the 2001 religion census and the ways in which its results were subsequently used in public discourse and policy formation.

BRIN in the media

On the morning of 10 February 2013 Clive Field was interviewed on ten BBC local radio stations about the religious dimensions of the same-sex marriage debate in terms of public opinion, and in the wake of the Second Reading debate in the House of Commons on the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill. The discussion centred around four main questions:

  • Has society become more accepting of same-sex marriage?
  • The growing acceptance of same-sex marriage has coincided with a decline of religion – are the two linked?
  • The Church of England and the Coalition for Marriage claim that public opinion does not support same-sex marriage – are they right?
  • What impact will same-sex marriage have on society as a whole?

Field had previously done a series of interviews on Radio 4 and eight BBC local radio stations on 16 December last about the initial results of the 2011 religion census for England and Wales.


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