Is It Ethical To Pay Drug Addicts To Get Sterilized?

Controversial non-profit group Project Prevention is doing just that — offering $300 to addicts who agree to sterilization or long-term birth control. The group’s posters hang in homeless shelters and read things such as “Don’t let a pregnancy ruin your drug habit,” or “She has her daddy’s eyes … and her mommy’s heroin addiction.”

Project Prevention — formerly known as C.R.A.C.K. (Children Requiring A Caring Kommunity) — offers addicts, most of them (but not all) female, $300 cash in hand to receive sterilization, or long-term birth contron. The organization’s stated objective is “public awareness to the problem of addicts/alcoholics exposing their unborn child to drugs during pregnancy.” Their website states “Project Prevention seeks to reduce the burden of this social problem on taxpayers, trim down social worker caseloads, and alleviate from our clients the burden of having children that will potentially be taken away.”

In order to get the cash, clients show show evidence they have been arrested on a drug-related charge, or they can provide a doctor’s certificate saying they use drugs. Project Prevention’s founder, Barbara Harris, once adopted six different babies born to the same crack-addicted mother. She says her motivations are completely ethical, “I think it’s really important for people to understand that the majority of women we sterilize are women who have had multiple children and don’t want anymore. It’s their decision.”

Not so fast, say critics, including Niamh Eastwood of Release, a drugs law organization in the UK. “By encouraging sterilisation, Project Prevention is taking away reproductive rights for women at a point when they are not able to make a clear decision about such an important issue,” Eastwood wrote in a lengthy editorial. “Harris’s retort is that, if they are not able to make an informed decision about their health, they are not able to look after a child. However, it is not that simple. As a society, we must protect the fundamental human rights of every person, including their sexual and reproductive rights.”

There are accusations that Harris focuses specifically on black women, and others who say that Harris views all addicts as “eternal victims,” and doesn’t seem to give a care what happens to these women as long as unwanted babies are not born. In the “Journal of Law In Society,” Lynn M. Paltrow argues that Project Prevention “promotes a vision of pregnant women with health problems as “child abusers,” portrays healthy children as damaged, and fosters stereotypes, prejudice, and medical misinformation. As a result, C.R.A.C.K. undermines, rather than promotes, the welfare of children and caring communities.”

Barbara Harris: “We don’t allow dogs to breed. We spay them. We neuter them. We try to keep them from having unwanted puppies, and yet these women are literally having litters of children.”

In 2010, the group branched out from North Carolina and began operating in the United Kingdom. There, it was met with strong opposition and was unable to “provide” the sterilization procedures that Harris prefers. Instead, the UK branch of the organization only offers long-term birth control. Now Harris has her sights set on Kenya, where HIV positive women will be paid $40 to insert IUDs. Harris has also expressed interest in sterilizing women in Ireland and Haiti.

Some have called her campaign veiled eugenics, while others have just questioned the ethics of handing drug addicts no-questions-asked cash to feed their addiction. Harris feels she’s doing what’s right to prevent these women from multiple unwanted pregnancies. What do you think?

Several sources were used for this post, including the New York Daily News, Africa Is A Country, NZ Drug Foundation, and the Project Prevention web site.

There is also a wealth of information regarding both sides of this debate available at the National Advocates For Pregnant Women site.

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