The Northern Ireland Department of Education has launched a consultation on the circumstances under which a parent or carer may excuse a child from being taught about abortion, after the UK Government brought forward regulations earlier this year that will force schools in Northern Ireland to teach secondary school pupils about abortion.
In June 2023, the UK Government brought forward regulations forcing schools in Northern Ireland to teach students aged 11 to 16 years old (key stages 3 and 4) about abortion under ‘Relationships and Sexuality Education’ (RSE). This approach was heavily criticised by the highly respected House of Lords Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee. Unusually, there was no public consultation on the regulations prior to them coming into effect, in contrast to other comparable policy changes, including changes to RSE in England.
However, the Northern Ireland Department of Education has launched a consultation with limited scope after the regulations have already been approved, relating to the circumstances under which parents should be able to withdraw their children from this content in schools.
The consultation asks contributors for their views concerning the nature of the proposed RSE curriculum with regard to abortion and whether parents should be informed of the specific content of such lessons. However, the preambles to these questions fail to mention that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Chris Heaton-Harris, has said that the regulations will “mirror the approach taken in England”.
In England, teaching about abortion in schools goes far beyond outlining what the abortion law is and recommended resources teach girls how to get an abortion (including late-term abortions) and how to go about secretly having an abortion without their parents knowing.
England’s RSE guidance states that there are “many excellent resources available, free of charge, which schools can draw on”, specifically listing the Sexwise website as a resource for “up to date information on all aspects of sexual and reproductive health…which teachers may find helpful for their knowledge”.
“Mirror the approach taken in England”
The Sexwise resource outlines how to get an abortion (including late-term abortions) and teaches girls how to go about secretly having an abortion without their parents knowing.
In the same resource, students who are pregnant are encouraged to book an appointment at an abortion clinic, even if they are unsure about whether they want to have an abortion. The resource states that “Abortion is safer the earlier it takes place, so even if you’re not certain about your decision, it’s a good idea to get a referral. You’ll always be given time to make up your mind, if you need it”.
Contact details for the three largest abortion providers in the UK, all of whom receive the majority of their income from performing abortions, are provided in the resource.
Its resources are highly biased and include extensive misinformation, for example stating that “before the limit of viability (24 weeks in the UK), the foetus is not considered a human being”.
Stating that an unborn child under 24 weeks is not considered a human being is simply an opinion, widely disputed, and should be labelled as such.
In the “Why do some people oppose abortion?” section of the resource, the EFC states “… if a fertilised cell is a human being, then using a condom or masturbating is tantamount to murder… as trillions of potential lives die in teenage boys’ bellybuttons every day”.
This misinformation falsely claims that those opposed to abortion believe that gametes, unfertilised sperm and eggs, require the same protection in law that an embryo or fetus should have.
Furthermore, the Northern Ireland consultation implies that there is a conflict between parental rights and children’s rights without making reference to the fact there is no internationally recognised right to an abortion or to the fact that the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child to which the consultation refers, includes protections for children “before as well as after birth”.
Right To Life UK spokesperson, Catherine Robinson, said:
“The people of Northern Ireland made it clear that they did not want abortion introduced to Northern Ireland, but the UK Government ignored them and forced it on them”.
“Now the UK Government is adding insult to injury and forcing schools throughout Northern Ireland to teach about abortion”.
“Northern Ireland will now be going from a country where parents can decide when and how to teach their children about abortion, to all schools, including faith schools, being forced to teach students aged 11 to 16 years old about abortion”.
“Abortion is not a morally neutral issue and should not be taught as such since it involves deliberately ending another human life. To give the impression it is neutral, is itself to adopt a contested moral position and this is exactly what the consultation does”.
“It would be wholly inappropriate for schools to tell girls how to ‘access abortion’, especially without parental involvement, and there is simply no way this could possibly be done in a ‘neutral manner'”.
“Faith schools in Northern Ireland should be able to teach about issues such as abortion in a way that aligns with the values of their faith tradition and not be forced to teach highly controversial issues such as abortion in a way prescribed by the state”.
“Parents/carers should be permitted to withdraw their children from RSE lessons if they are concerned about the content and it should be made easy for them to do so. If outside providers are invited by schools to teach RSE lessons on these issues, parents ought to be informed. In such situations, there should be full transparency from these providers and in-person monitoring of what they teach by the school”.