Editor’s Note: A controversial non-profit offers financial incentives to drug addicts to be sterilized. This article originally appeared on Campus Progress.
Children Requiring a Caring Kommunity (CRACK), a non-profit based in California, will give $200 cash to any drug-addicted man or woman willing to undergo sterilization. And they offer a more lucrative option for women: they will pay clients $200/year to take long-term birth control like Depo-Prevara or Norplant.
Barbara Harris, the founder of CRACK, established the organization after having adopted four children born to drug-addicted parents—something she claims her critics should try before they oppose her organization. Her mission: “Save our welfare system and the world from the exorbitant cost to the taxpayer for each drug-addicted birth” by offering “effective preventive measures to reduce the tragedy of numerous drug-affected pregnancies.”
Since its inception in 1997 in Orange County, California CRACK (also known by the more innocuous name, Project Prevention) has spread to several other U.S. cities including New York and Seattle. Its website announces “Project Prevention Goes Global!” and adds that they are currently exploring and seeking other interested countries for possible expansion. Though the original plan was to extend their entire program to its UK, the British Medical Association (BMA) has opposed the use of sterilization as part of CRACK’s program there.
Yearly, millions of children—many of who test positive for substance dependence—are born to drug-addicted mothers and are funneled into a bloated foster-care system, subject to both neglect and abuse.
The organization offers a solution that smacks of eugenics. In the 1930s Margaret Sanger, birth control advocate and early eugenicist, was interested in birth control’s usage possibility for population control. While Sanger believed that birth control was a tool for all women, she was also a product of her time—a time when eugenics was popular—and she thought birth control should be used to reduce the population of “feeble-minded” people and the mentally ill. In the same spirit, CRACK is offering money to a highly vulnerable, economically depressed population it deems undesirable for reproduction.
CRACK’s website includes numerous letters from substance-exposed children who support her program, apparently trying to prevent people like themselves from being born. Harris recounts that when she first became involved with the issue of protecting substance-exposed children, she sought the punishment of addicts who had children. “I started calling district attorneys’ offices and police departments, asking whether there was anything I could do as a concerned citizen, perhaps make a citizens’ arrest. I got nowhere. I was told there was nothing I could do,” she told People magazine.
When asked about the controversy surrounding her organization, she seems genuinely confused. “I really don’t understand controversy or people who oppose what we do,” Harris says. “I think a lot of people should realize they’re never going to be good parents, and never have children.”
CRACK’s methodology for attracting clients has come under fire from activists and concerned communities. Their strategy targets low-income neighborhoods and includes messages such as the provocative: “Don’t Let Getting Pregnant Get in the Way of your Drug Habit.” As the program has grown, CRACK is increasingly getting referrals from publicly funded institutions such as prisons, probation centers, drug treatment centers and even hospitals. According to a recent Salon article, “Addicts who are directed to CRACK by public employees now account for a quarter of the program’s participants.” CRACK’s increasing reliance on referrals from public agencies could have wide implications for the American public.
Advocacy groups such as Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids have also questioned CRACK’s exclusive focus on those addicted to illegal drugs. When it comes to the damage tobacco and second-hand smoke can have on children,“[S]moking during pregnancy creates a more serious risk of spontaneous abortion and a greater threat to the survival and health of newborns and children than using cocaine during pregnancy. It is also a much more pervasive problem.”
Other criticisms of CRACK, as highlighted by the organizations Communities Against Rape and Abuse (CARA) and the Black People’s Project (BPP) in their work with the Committee on Women, Population, and the Environment include the following:
1. CRACK ignores the interrelation of rape, abuse, and homelessnes with substance addictions.
2. CRACK lacks a complex analysis of substance-abuse issues (such as the social justice issues that contribute to substance abuse) and fails to demonstrate any comprehensive or supportive drug-treatment plan to help their clients end their habits.
3. CRACK’s program relies on coercion, financial manipulation of economically vulnerable communities and guilt.
While guaranteeing access to safe and affordable abortions for all women is the most common refrain of the mainstream reproductive rights movement, we must consider other aspects of reproductive justice, say activists like Loretta J. Ross of the reproductive justice organization SisterSong. In her essay, the Color of Choice, Ross writes that “in short,” true, comprehensive “reproductive justice can be described as reproductive rights embedded in a human rights and social justice framework used to counter all forms of population control that deny women’s human rights.” (The Color of Violence, edited INCITE Women of Color Against Violence, 2006)
For decades without the broad consent or debate, marginalized communities have been the object of population control projects administered by our own government and around the world. The critics of CRACK urge us to abandon narrow definitions of reproductive rights only as the right to choose NOT to parent, but also to defend the rights of all men and women to become parents when and how they may choose.
Photo credit: Todd Huffman via flickr