The Dutch government has imposed new obligations to the ‘Nu Niet Zwanger’-project. These obligations meet most of the demands of Bureau Clara Wichmann and NJCM.
With the ‘Not Pregnant for Now’-project by municipal health agency GGD, ‘vulnerable people’ (in practice mostly women) are actively approached by professionals to discuss their desire to have children. The program is aimed at helping ’vulnerable women” who do not want to get pregnant through the provision of contraceptives such as the contraceptive injection. The project describes ‘vulnerability’ as a combination of, inter alia, psychiatric illness, drug addiction, having debts, a mental disorder or being undocumented.
Bureau Clara Wichmann and NJCM had grave concerns regarding the question whether human rights and women’s rights guarantees were taken sufficiently into account in this project: who are seen as vulnerable? Is it not difficult to say ‘no’ to a professional from the government who visits you at home? Are the right to privacy and the right to self-determination of the participants being sufficiently taken into account?
The organisations did not see these guarantees reflected in the project, nor in the government decision to fund the project (in order to give the project a national effect).
Unfortunately, various meetings as well as sending an academic report (containing all relevant human rights and women’s rights) did not lead to change. Therefore, Bureau Clara Wichmann and NJCM saw no other option than to resort to litigation. The initiated proceedings challenged the government’s funding of the project. The two organisations were represented by dedicated lawyers of law firm Stibbe, who conducted the case pro bono, and by PILP-NJCM, the strategic litigation branch of NJCM.
The proceedings have had a good and substantial outcome this summer.
According to the responsible minister, indeed the possibility exists that a woman might feel forced to provide answers that she expects the professional wants to hear. Of course, this should never happen, because it would amount to indirect coercion by the government in the very sensitive and private matter of the desire to have children.
Accordingly, the government has now imposed new obligations to the ‘Not Pregnant for Now’-project, such as:
- The obligation that there will be specific attention for the applicable human rights framework in the training, framework and intervision of all people involved in the project;
- An accessible and widely known complaint desk for all participants;
- A mandatory training for all professionals that conduct the house visits, which also pays attention to the human rights framework.
These obligations meet most of the demands of Bureau Clara Wichmann and NJCM.
The organisations are pleased with this result and consider it a good example of how strategic litigation can lead to results that could not have been achieved through other means, such as solely conducting conversations or creating (media) awareness. The organizations will continue to critically monitor the ‘Not Pregnant for Now’ project.