Almost three out of four people who responded to a public consultation have rejected a proposal by the British government that would require schools in Northern Ireland, including Catholic schools, to teach students how to access an abortion.
In November, Irish bishops warned that the plan would "impose abortion ideology" on faith-based schools in the region.
Though Northern Ireland remains part of the United Kingdom, it has been largely self-governing since a 1998 Good Friday peace agreement brought an end to 30 years of sectarian violence and created a Protestant-Catholic power-sharing government.
However, that government has been suspended since February 2022 over political disagreements and decisions are now made by British ministers.
Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris has insisted that he will update the requirements for Relationship and Sexuality Education, or RSE, in the curriculum. Heaton-Harris claimed the regulations will make "age-appropriate, comprehensive and scientifically accurate education on sexual and reproductive health and rights, covering prevention of early pregnancy and access to abortion" a compulsory component of the curriculum for students.
The results of the consultation were published Jan. 5, and revealed a total of 13,461 responses.
The results show that 73% of respondents disagreed with the government's RSE programme. In total, 92% of respondents agreed that parents or carers should always be informed about the specific nature and content of any RSE program. And 96% said parents and carers should always have access to any school RSE policy or program for review.
In one of the first comments published in the report by the Department of Education, a parent/carer said, "I disagree that abortion options and prevention of early pregnancy should be explained to children."
The person added, "This may encourage them to experiment with sex from a young age, removing their innocence, and show them that there is a 'get out of jail free' card if they were to fall pregnant. Abortion is the murder of a child and it should not be taught as an option."
Director of the pro-life charity Precious Life, Bernadette Smyth, described the response to the consultation as "unprecedented."
"This shows the strength of feeling from the people of Northern Ireland on this issue," she told OSV News.
Smyth insisted that the British government "must end their complete disregard for democracy and devolution (to local politicians), and their total disrespect for the views of the people of Northern Ireland.”
"We demand Heaton-Harris and the government listen to the 73% majority in Northern Ireland, and remove this abortion-promoting RSE program from our schools," she said.
In November, Bishop Donal McKeown of Derry warned that the "expectation that schools should become engaged in the delivery of an allegedly neutral curriculum which highlights access to abortion shows no understanding of the foundational principles of Catholic education."