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NI: Pupils from 11 yrs to be taught they have right to abortion in mandatory curriculum

Image credit: Creative Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0) bit.ly/42s1AxV

A new “sex and relationships” curriculum set to be imposed on Northern Ireland will teach secondary school pupils that they have a right to abortion.

Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris’s Office announced the plan on Tuesday afternoon, sparking concern from Unionists, with the DUP among critics of the proposals.

DUP MP Carla Lockhart said  that the majority of people  in Northern Ireland remain  opposed to abortion. In March 2020, it was revealed that a very significant majority of the public submissions made to a British government consultation on abortion in NI opposed any changes to abortion law. 79% – almost four out of every five submissions – registered opposition to introducing greater abortion provision in the North.

The regulations, which are set to be enforced by the UK government, will educate pupils aged 11-16 on how to prevent a pregnancy, the legal right to abortion, and will provide information on access to abortion services. Up until now, individual schools across the North have been allowed to decide what to teach pupils regarding the issue, based on their individual school ethos.

As per a report in The Belfast Telegraph, Heaton-Harris said providing pupils with information covering access to abortion was “fundamental” to the wellbeing of young people in Northern Ireland.

“It is fundamental for their wellbeing that adolescents in Northern Ireland have access to age-appropriate, comprehensive and scientifically accurate education on sexual and reproductive health and rights that covers access to abortion and contraception,” the Secretary of State said. 

The Northern Ireland Office stated that Mr Heaton-Harris is under a statutory duty under the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Act 2019 to implement recommendation 86(d) of the Report of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination of Women (CEDAW).

The incoming regulations will amend previous local education laws in relation to Key State 3 and 4 pupils. They will also obligate the Department of Education to provide guidance on the content and delivery of the curriculum, to be provided by 1st January 2024.

In a statement, the Northern Ireland office addressed the issue of consultation, stating:

“Consultation with parents on Relationship and Sexuality Education is already common practice in Northern Ireland and we expect the Department of Education to ensure schools afford parents the opportunity to review relevant materials.

“The regulations, in practice, will result in educating adolescents on issues such as how to prevent a pregnancy, the legal right to an abortion in Northern Ireland, and how relevant services may be accessed”.

The Northern Ireland Office went on to state that the “moral and ethical” considerations surrounding abortion or contraception should not feature in the new regulations, stating:

“This should be done in a factual way that does not advocate, nor oppose, a particular view on the moral and ethical considerations of abortion or contraception.”

Speaking on Tuesday, Mr Heaton-Harris said he looked forward to introducing the new measures, adding:

“Today I have made regulations that will amend the Education (Northern Ireland) Order 2006, and the Education (Curriculum Minimum Content) Order (Northern Ireland) 2007 to introduce compliant education, in line with recommendations from the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women.

“I look forward to working with the Department of Education to ensure the delivery and implementation of these measures, which will include meaningful engagement with young people, teachers and parents.”

Pro-life organisation, Precious Life, condemned the changes to the curriculum, as it hit out at the Westminster Government – who introduced abortion in 2019 despite overwhelming opposition expressed in a public consultation on changing the law.

“Not content with 4,136 babies already killed in Northern Ireland, the Westminster Government want even more babies killed by promoting abortion to school children,” the pro-life group said, referencing a surge in the number of abortions carried out in the province.

Precious Life said that their schools outreach teams, along with their street outreach teams would continue and “step up” their awareness campaigns in light of the change to the curriculum. 

The changes were, however, welcomed by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) NI. 

“We are greatly heartened to see this progress,” the charity said in a statement. 

This piece was first published on Gript

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