Almost three quarters of respondents to a consultation on sex ed in Northern Ireland oppose the teaching of abortion in schools without considering ethical concerns.
Westminster passed legislation in 2019 which required NI Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris to make changes to Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE), which he imposed in June last year, with all post-primary children set to learn about contraception and abortion.
The Department of Education (DoE) then consulted on regulations giving parents the right to withdraw their children from this teaching, proposing that resources used by schools “should not advocate, or oppose, a particular view on the moral and ethical considerations of abortion or contraception”.
Following the twelve-week consultation, the DoE revealed that 73 per cent of respondents were opposed to amoral teaching of abortion in schools, with less than a quarter in favour.
In written responses, only six per cent said teaching should be exclusively scientific, with over 43 per cent writing that they believe the subject should include moral and ethical perspectives.
The consultation also revealed that 91 per cent believed that parents “should be informed about the specific nature and content” of RSE, particularly in relation to pregnancy and abortion, and 74 per cent indicated in written responses that “parents’ rights should take precedence”.
The DoE has now published the guidance, which makes clear that the change to the curriculum “does not prevent teachers and pupils from discussing and commenting on moral, ethical or spiritual issues”.
Diane Dodds, Education Spokesperson for the DUP, said the opposition showed the depth of feeling that issues such as abortion cannot be taught “within a moral vacuum”.
“That is vindication of our stance that a sensitive and emotive issue such as abortion simply cannot be discussed outside of a wider framework of moral and ethical perspectives.”
New legal regulations give parents the right to withdraw their children from teaching on contraception and abortion, however year 12 pupils can only be withdrawn if they themselves don’t object.
Current guidance says schools should allow parents to withdraw their children from any part of RSE teaching, but a new version of that guidance is likely to be issued later this year.