THE Catholic Church has attacked a radical plan to tackle the problem of teenage pregnancies in Scotland, describing proposals to locate sexual health drop-in centres near schools as "sinister".

The church said its schools cannot be required to signpost pupils towards family planning services such as emergency contraception.

It was responding to the proposal which is contained in a draft Scottish Government strategy covering the wider issues surrounding teenage pregnancies.

In a submission to ministers, The Scottish Catholic Education Service said: "We find it sinister that this draft strategy proposes that sexual health service drop-in centres should be situated “in or close to” schools. "This smacks of an underhand strategy which appears determined to impose a moral standpoint in direct opposition to the moral perspectives proposed by Catholic schools and to the wishes of parents who choose Catholic education for their children."

They call for the reference to drop-in clinics within or near to schools to be removed from the final document.

Rates of teenage pregnancy have fallen significantly in Scotland, down from 57.7 per 1,000 people in 2007 to 37.7 per 1,000 in 2013 – a decrease of around 35 per cent.

However, girls under the age of 20 living in deprived areas are five times more likely to fall pregnant than those in the most affluent neighbourhoods, and in a bid to tackle this and provide extra support to young parents the Scottish Government drafted a new strategy last year.

In it they note some young people feel anxious about going to NHS sexual health services, quoting a survey which showed one quarter feel there are difficulties accessing help with contraception.

The draft strategy says all sexual and reproductive health services should offer a "youth-friendly approach" adding: "Schools and other learning establishments have an important role to play in signposting to such services..."

Continuing to provide sexual health drop-in clinics "in, or close to, schools" is also listed among the points for action.

Responses to the strategy, which have just been analysed, highlight a clear division between some of those providing sexual health services and the stance outlined by the Scottish Catholic Education Service.

The sexual health promotion team at NHS Lanarkshire say council education departments "must take a much more proactive role in sign-posting and making referrals to local sexual and reproductive health services" including access to emergency contraception and free condoms. They say: "Young people in denominational schools have an equal right to access this information in line with their peers who attend non-denominational schools and this document (the strategy) should state this unequivocally." They add that there can be "significant discrepancies" between the Relationships, Sexual Health and Parenthood (RSHP) education provided by different schools adding: "This continues to put the health outcomes of children and young people at risk and puts local authorities in particular, in the position of providing unequal goods or services on the basis of religion."

NHS Lothian also call for action to address the "gap" in learning for young people in denominational and independent schools.

However, the Scottish Catholic Education Service, which was set up to establish education policy on behalf of the Roman Catholic Bishops of Scotland, said in its response: "We dispute the assertion that it is necessary to combine RSHP education with the provision of sexual health services including contraception, emergency contraception and access to abortion. Catholic schools cannot be required to offer such services or to signpost young people towards them."

Green MSP Patrick Harvie, who used to work in the sexual health field, said the Scottish Government's policy should reflect the best evidence available. "We know what works in terms of good quality comprehensive sex education and education about parenting and relationships," he said. "If the church education service does not want to deliver that, that is fine, we just need to make sure those people attending those schools have access to it through another route."

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "We will consider all consultation responses on the draft strategy as we finalise the document. The final version of the strategy will be published in early 2016."

It has been the government's policy for drop in centres to be located ‘in or close to’ schools since around 2005.

In 2013, NHS sexual health experts wrote to Holyrood saying access to contraception and emergency contraception in schools should be improved.