The charity Pause began working in Scotland last summer with the launch of a project in Dundee and it is in talks with local government in other parts of Scotland, Northern Ireland and England.
Addictions and mental health support is a core part of the project, as well as practical help with housing, benefits and child contact.
A progress report to Dundee City Council’s children and families service committee published on the 27th of January stated more than 30 women have accessed the programme which is delivered by Tayside Council on Alcohol.
Women are required to go on long-acting reversible contraception in order to continue beyond the first 16 weeks of the programme, Pause explains that the aim is to “prevent the damaging consequences of children being taken into care”.
However, there have been warnings against other local authorities following suit, due to its provision of “conditional” support.
In July 2019, sixteen professionals and academics specialising in addictions, including Scottish Drugs Forum’s CEO, David Liddell, signed a letter published in The Herald, which stated the women targeted are likely to have “a mistrust of official institutions” and that “offering badly needed services contingent on reproductive control may exacerbate” this.
Speaking to the Sunday National this week, Liddell said: “It is a matter of urgent concern that Scotland has not been able to make its view clear – these types of initiatives are not compatible with the rights-based approach adopted most recently in the new drugs strategy.
“Concerns have been raised by experts across various fields. We share those concerns and would encourage national and local bodies to reject an approach that exploits and further disempowers some of the most vulnerable women in Scotland.”
Dr Alison Scott, who chairs the Scotland committee of the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Rights and who last week began a new role with the Scottish Government implementing a national women’s health plan, has also cautioned against wider adoption of Pause’s approach.
Referring to the organisation’s policy of “transitioning” women who become pregnant out of the programme, she said: “Pregnancy is the time when you most need support. The people with the greatest need are who they’re withdrawing the support from. That’s what happens when you have restrictive, conditional support.”
Dundee City Council said that if the women become pregnant, the council’s New Beginnings team “will offer assistance”.
Convener of the cross-party group on women’s health and Scottish Labour health spokesperson Monica Lennon has said she would be “concerned” to see the model become mainstream.
She added: “People living with substance misuse, whether drugs, alcohol or both, face constant battles to get the help they need. Addiction is an illness and healthcare and social support should be accessible on the basis of need.
“The Pause project provides services that can help women recover from substance misuse, but requiring them to take long-acting reversible contraception in order to get this help raises a number of concerns.
“Women must have the right to choose what contraception is right for them, free from judgement.
“Pause is incompatible with universal healthcare and sends out an unhelpful message on women’s reproductive rights.”