Regulations to force all state schools in Northern Ireland to teach 11 to 16-year-olds about abortion were voted through the House of Commons earlier today.
MPs voted 373 in favour and 28 against, with the majority of those in favour not from Northern Ireland.
The vote appeared to be whipped for Conservative MPs and early indications suggest that at least one MP has resigned from a Parliamentary position in order to vote against the regulations. A number of other Conservative MPs appear to have defied the whip to vote against the regulations.
It is very rare that votes on regulations don’t pass – the last time that a vote in support of a statutory instrument was lost in the House of Commons was in October 1979.
The new rules make teaching about access to abortion part of the curriculum and require the Department of Education in Northern Ireland to issue guidance ensuring that “pupils receive education on … access to abortion”.
The regulations were debated by the House of Commons Second Delegated Legislation Committee on Monday this week and DUP MPs Jim Shannon, Sammy Wilson and Ian Paisley all spoke forcefully against these changes.
Jim Shannon said “The Government and the Secretary of State are pushing a policy that they know is abhorrent to many people in Northern Ireland”.
Sammy Wilson argued that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland “has trampled over this issue like some kind of rogue elephant not concerned at all about the impact which it has”.
Referring to the House of Lords Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee (SLSC), which was highly critical of the Government’s approach, Ian Paisley said “I’ve never seen such a report from a legislative committee in my life … This isn’t some minor thing. This is about policy being made … and the Government has got it wrong”.
Members of the House of Lords have also been highly critical of the regulations. In a debate in the House of Lords Grand Committee earlier today, Lord Morrow said “The Regulations before us today are profoundly controversial both in terms of their content and in terms of the procedure that has attended their development … they suffer from a similar legitimacy deficit to that attending the Abortion Regulations 2020”.
Baroness Ritchie added “The manner and content of these regulations suggests, I would contend, a level of arrogance on the part of the NIO and a total disregard for schools, parents and their management structures, many in the faith-based sector; and I feel that they have been treated with total ignominy”.
Lord McCrea accused the Northern Ireland Secretary of “arrogance” for not consulting the voting public before forcing this legislation through.
A concern for teachers and parents
Before the debate, the SLSC had been highly critical of the approach taken by the UK Government which did not undertake a public consultation on the regulations. They suggested that, given the controversial status of the policy change, such a consultation ought to have taken place.
The Committee was also critical of the fact that there were no guarantees that parents would be able to withdraw their children from lessons that taught about abortion. They warned, “The Committee believes that this will be of considerable concern to parents in NI”.
A number of submissions made to the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee raised concerns that teachers who are morally opposed to abortion would not have the option of opting out of teaching abortion to pupils.
Abortion imposed on Northern Ireland despite public opposition
In 2019, in the absence of a functioning Northern Ireland Assembly, politicians in Westminster voted to impose a new abortion regime on the province, despite all of the Northern Ireland MPs who were present voting against the proposals.
The extreme abortion regime was forced on Northern Ireland on 31 March 2020 despite widespread opposition.
79% of respondents to a public consultation on introducing abortion to Northern Ireland opposed introducing abortion to the region and polling showed that two-thirds of women in Northern Ireland did not want abortion laws imposed by Westminster.
Speeches on the regulations to force all state schools in Northern Ireland to teach 11 to 16-year-olds about abortion
Lord Weir stressed the lack of respect for the sensitives around the issue of abortion.
Lord Hay expressed concern about the lack of consideration for people’s wishes and views by imposing these regulations.
Lord Dobbs criticized the insufficient respect given to people by forcing the teaching of abortion on NI schools.
Lord Moylan warned that it cannot be expected that people will abandon their ethics.
Lord Browne slammed the Northern Ireland Office for breaching the convention that at least 21 days should be allowed between laying an instrument and bringing it into effect.
Right To Life UK spokesperson Catherine Robinson said “While this result is a disappointment, it was not unexpected. The last time that a vote in support of a statutory instrument was lost in the House of Commons was in October 1979. This legislation will likely put teachers and parents who oppose abortion in a very difficult situation”.