Background: Preterm birth is in quantity and in severity the most important contributor of perinatal morbidity and mortality both in well- and low-resource countries. Cervical pessary and cervical cerclage are both considered as preventive treatments in women at risk for preterm birth. We aim to evaluate whether a cervical pessary can replace cervical cerclage for preventing recurrent preterm birth in women with a prior preterm birth due to cervical insufficiency or in women with a prior preterm birth and a short cervix in the current pregnancy. Methods/design: A nationwide open-label multicentre randomised clinical trial will be set up to study women with a singleton pregnancy and a prior preterm birth before 34 weeks of gestation. Women are eligible in case of previous preterm birth based on cervical insufficiency (primary intervention, <16 weeks) or in case of previous preterm birth and a short cervical length in current pregnancy ≤25 mm (secondary intervention, <24 weeks). Eligible women will be randomised to either cervical pessary or cervical cerclage. Both interventions will be removed at labour or at 36 weeks of gestational age, whatever comes first. The primary outcome will be delivery before 32 weeks. Secondary outcomes will be gestational age at birth, preterm birth rate before 24, 28, 34 and 37 weeks of gestation (overall and stratified by spontaneous or indicated delivery), premature rupture of membranes, use of tocolysis and/or corticosteroids during pregnancy, mode of delivery, maternal infections, maternal side effects, neonatal and maternal hospital admissions, and a composite of adverse perinatal outcomes including both morbidity and mortality. We assume an event rate of 20% preterm birth before 32 weeks for cerclage and use a non-inferiority margin of 10% for the cervical pessary. Using an alpha of 0.05 and power of 0.80 we need 2 groups of 200 women each. Discussion: The outcome of this study will indicate the effectiveness and the cost-effectiveness of a cervical cerclage and of a cervical pessary. Trial registration: Netherlands Trial Registry, NTR 4415. Date registered: 29th of January 2014.