Two-thirds of the Irish public favour decriminalising abortion, according to the results of a new poll for Amnesty International.

It also says the majority of people in Ireland are not aware that abortion is a criminal offence when a woman's life is not at risk.

The human rights organisation argues the Government is under increasing pressure to reform its anti-abortion law, one of the most restrictive in the world.

Over 1,000 people were interviewed in May as part of the poll, carried out by RED C Research and Marketing.

Asked whether the Government should decriminalise abortion, 67% agreed and 25% disagreed. 81% are in favour of significantly widening the grounds for legal abortion access in Ireland.

Key figures: 

- 64% of people did not know it is a crime to get an abortion in Ireland when a woman's life is not at risk

- 71% agreed that classifying abortion as a crime contributes to the distress and stigma felt by women who have had abortions

- 68% agree that Ireland's abortion ban does not stop most women who want an abortion from having one

- 70% agreed that women have a right to an abortion when their pregnancy is a result of rape or incest, where their life or health is at risk, or in cases of fatal foetal impairment

Executive Director of Amnesty International Ireland Colm O'Gorman said: "It is clear that Irish views on abortion have undergone a major transformation. People in Ireland are now, on the whole, more understanding of the situations women find themselves in and firmly believe that women should not be criminalised for having an abortion.

"This poll demonstrates that on the issue of abortion Ireland's people are clearly way ahead of their government leaders. The conversation we urgently need in Ireland on abortion is a challenging one, but it must happen.

"The Irish Government should put this issue to the people as a matter of priority. Decriminalising abortion is not only a human rights obligation - it is what people in Ireland want. And this means repealing the 8th Amendment," he added.

Sherlock takes issue with Amnesty poll findings

However, the Pro-Life Campaign has taken issue with the poll and said Amnesty's reputation has been greatly undermined by its "decision to adopt such a one-sided position on the abortion issue".

Deputy Chairperson of the Pro-Life Campaign Cora Sherlock referred to Amnesty's report 'My Body: My Rights' saying: "It's now abundantly clear that Amnesty's recent report on Ireland's abortion laws was selective and skewed in pushing a pro-choice agenda. There wasn't even the slightest attempt made to ensure balance.

"In compiling the report, Amnesty failed to consult with women who regret their abortions or those who came under intense pressure from State funded agencies to abort their children with life-limiting conditions.

She added: "Almost identical results to today's Red C poll findings were published as far back as 1997 but when the public had an opportunity to vote on the issue in 2002 the outcome of the referendum was entirely different and a clear pro-life majority was evident.

"I am confident that as the current debate develops it will become much clearer that the Eighth Amendment, which provides the last remaining legal protection for the unborn, remains a force for good and is responsible for saving many lives and for creating an ethos of care that respects and protects both mother and baby in pregnancy."

The Pro-Life Campaign claimed today's poll is undermined because one of a number of groups that were interviewed in compiling Amnesty's 'She is not a criminal' report, published on 9 June, is a group that advises women on abortions in countries where abortions are illegal.

Amnesty has refuted this claim saying the recent report and today's poll are completely independent.

It said it "spoke to a plethora of health service providers, politicians, women affected, doctors, midwives etc" in compiling its 'She is not a criminal report' and the online advice group was one of those. 

This group "had nothing to do with the Red C poll published today, which was commissioned by Amnesty International but done entirely by Red C", Amnesty said.