Bishop Donal McKeown of the Diocese of Derry has criticized the new sexual education Regulations for adolescents in Northern Ireland.
The new Regulations, announced by Northern Ireland Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris on Tuesday, June 6, seek to ensure adolescents in Northern Ireland receive age-appropriate, comprehensive, and scientifically accurate education on sexual and reproductive health and rights.
“I am hugely concerned at this illiberal attack on the right of Catholic schools to offer their own ethos and worldview as they try to help children prepare for mature relationships in a fragmenting world,” Bishop McKeown told Catholic News Agency on June 8.
Bishop McKeown said he has three concerns with the Regulations that were announced this week: that they were implemented "without any consultation with stakeholders and educationalists;" that they are an "ideological imposition in schools which are trying to support the development of children’s maturity;" and that they are “based on the dogmatic secular belief that abortion and contraception are purely ‘health-related’ without any moral context.”
He separately told BBC: "If anyone wants to find out about abortion you get something called Google and you type in abortion.”
On Tuesday, Heaton-Harris said the Regulations were laid to implement the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) report's recommendation to “make age-appropriate, comprehensive and scientifically accurate education on sexual and reproductive health and rights a compulsory component of curriculum for adolescents, covering prevention of early pregnancy and access to abortion in Northern Ireland, and monitor its implementation.”
Today I have made Regulations to ensure adolescents in Northern Ireland receive age-appropriate, comprehensive and scientifically accurate education on sexual and reproductive health and rights. https://t.co/X4rh2EF3uC— Chris Heaton-Harris MP (@chhcalling) June 6, 2023
The Regulations, which are set to come into effect from July 1, will mirror the approach taken in England with regard to education about the prevention of early pregnancy and access to abortion, Heaton-Harris said.
Acknowledging the "sensitivity" of the topic, Heaton-Harris said the Regulations place a duty on the Department of Education "to introduce a mechanism to ensure that a pupil may be withdrawn from education on sexual and reproductive health and rights, or elements of that education, at the request of a parent. This follows the approach taken in England and Scotland."
He added: "I wish to be clear that educating adolescents on issues such as contraception, and access to abortion in Northern Ireland, should be done in a factual way that does not advocate, or oppose, a particular view on the moral and ethical considerations of abortion or contraception."