Belfast Telegraph

Bishops oppose the provision of abortion services in Northern Ireland schools

Eamon Martin
Eamon Martin
Ralph Hewitt

By Ralph Hewitt

Catholic bishops in Northern Ireland have outlined their opposition to allowing any abortion provisions to be made available in schools here in a move which has been backed by the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS).

The Presbyterian Church in Ireland also reiterated yesterday its continued opposition to abortion in its response to the Secretary of State Julian Smith's consultation on the legal framework for termination services here.

Abortion was decriminalised here after the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Act 2019 came into force in October following an historic House of Commons vote.

The government now has until the end of March to come up with regulations for the provision of abortion services.

In the Catholic bishops' response to the consultation, they also said that unrestricted access to pregnancy termination up to 14 weeks will amount to abortion on demand, insisting counselling for women considering abortion should be made available and existing services should be made known.

They also believe that every woman considering abortion has a right to receive "accurate and appropriate" information regarding the risks, while guidance on the collection of accurate data - including the reasons why women seek an abortion - should be provided within the new regulatory framework.

The response to the consultation came from the Catholic Church's Archbishop Eamon Martin and Bishops Noel Treanor, Donal McKeown, Larry Duffy and Michael Router.

Outlining their opposition, they said in a joint statement: "We wish to make clear that we are completely opposed to all attempts to include any school premises as an option for the provision of abortion pills or any other abortion service."

They continued: "With regard to Catholic schools, central to our school ethos is the promotion of the dignity and life of every human being.

"The provision of abortion services in our schools would be contrary to everything a Catholic school stands for with regard to respect for all citizens and the promotion of the common good."

The bishops added that any inclusion within the school curriculum of information on how to access abortion would "fundamentally undermine the Catholic ethos of our schools".

A spokesperson for the CCMS said they were aware of the statement issued by the bishops and gave them their full backing regarding their stance on abortion provisions being made available in schools.

"CCMS at all times encourages schools to continue to provide the highest quality pastoral care to all their pupils in partnership with their parents/guardians," the spokesperson said.

"CCMS agrees with the Catholic bishops regarding their opposition to using schools as a provision to provide abortion pills or any other abortion services."

Meanwhile, the Presbyterian Church in Ireland submitted its own 5,000-word consultation response, restating its view that matters relating to abortion provision should be the responsibility of a devolved government.

The church also said that it was "well aware of the deep human tragedies that lie behind all crisis pregnancies" and that abortion was not simply "a theological or academic exercise for the Church".

Rev Daniel Kane, convener of council for public affairs for the church, said: "At the heart of this consultation is a question about the kind of society we want to live in.

"The impact of these changes on our population may not be truly felt for a generation, but have the potential to be profound. No matter how we view abortion, I'm sure that the overwhelming majority of people in Northern Ireland would agree that these proposals go too far."

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