“To me, it’s simple. There’s no rational reason why a drug addict or alcoholic should get pregnant.” These truculent words belong to a Mrs. Barbara Harris, the founder of an organization named Project Prevention. She’s on a personal mission to put an end to babies born to drug-addicted mothers. But not through common sense means like rehabilitation, medication, education or abortion. No, her preferred method is paying drug addicts to “volunteer” for sterilization. But before you judge her, she implores you to think of the children. Because for the love of God, won’t somebody please think of the children?
It seems the story of Mrs. Harris goes something like this: after adopting a bevy of drug-addicted babies (which immediately established her as an expert in the field), Barbara decided that there ought to be a law. She tried to promote one that would make “prenatal child neglect” a crime, and (for obvious reasons) that law died on the floor of the California legislature. Sitting back and doing nothing wasn’t an option, so she decided to create a group that waltzed around a legal loophole and actually pays addicts to undergo their own sterilization.
Now, in all fairness, women are also offered the option of having an IUD (intrauterine device) implanted that will protect them from pregnancy for five years. However, there are a couple of issues with this. One of them is that IUDs are particularly susceptible to harboring infections. For that reason most doctors prefer not to give them out to high risk patients, like, say, drug addicts. If an STI is contracted and not treated immediately the IUD greatly ups the chance for developing PID (pelvic inflammatory disease). Left untreated, PID can not only leave a woman unable to conceive, but it can kill her. In addition, the organization used to offer a lot more money for those undergoing permanent sterilization rather than IUD implantation and only adopted a flat payment rate after widespread criticisms.
While Project Prevention is apparently proud of their mission, when visiting their website it’s hard to get a clear and frank idea of what they really do. Mostly of the pages are filled with pictures of poor babies hooked up to medical treatments and thank you notes from faceless women. There is an FAQ section that answers soft-ball questions, and in only a few instances is the term “birth control” even mentioned. Then, of course there is the “tax issue”:
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. Unlike incarceration, Project Prevention is extremely cost effective and does not punish the participants.
Which I suppose is true, unless you consider being coerced into never having a child again a form of exploitative mutilation and of course, therefore, a punishment.
For all the lofty social justice that Project Prevention hopes to serve it also has a rather strange way of delivering the message. One leaflet, typically dropped into minority and poor urban areas, reads: “DON’T let a pregnancy get in the way of your crack habit.” And although Harris claims that she does not target minorities, her clientele is about a 50/50 split between whites and minorities. With minorities making up only 13-15% of the country, it’s difficult to imagine a scenario in which this isn’t targeting people of color. Yet, according to Project Prevention, even asking such questions is racist. Yes, they really went that route.
On top of that, Barbara Harris has also been quoted comparing these women (and naturally she focuses on the women who make up the majority of her clients) to dogs. Giving such charming soundbites as, “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.” This, by the way, is only one of her many comparisons of drug-addicted mothers to dogs. She seems to especially enjoy using the word “litter” and has even gone on the record admitting her work really amounts to “bribery.”
Of course, in the fight to stop unintended pregnancies there is already a well-known organization out there that gives free information to desperate women as well as subsidized birth control, long term birth control, and safe abortions. It’s called Planned Parenthood. So why doesn’t Barbara Harris turn her effort into raising money for them or organizations like them? It’s hard to say, but it seems from everything she’s said or written, Planned Parenthood simply gives these women too much choice. To Mrs. Harris, the simple fact of pregnancy has made these women failures and they don’t need, nor deserve any more options. On her website, the FAQ section explains further: “If you can not trust someone with their reproductive choices, how can you trust them with a child? The decision to use long term birth control in some cases is the first responsible decision these addicts have made in their addiction which may lead to more good decisions.” Please remember to substitute “long term birth control” with the word “sterilization” and “decision” with “taking payment.”
Still, not content to manipulate addicts in the United States alone, in the past year her group seems to have expanded to the U.K. The group started out with some very negative press when Deborah Wilson, a mother of two who lives in Glasgow, was approached by three women when leaving her doctor’s office. Although not a drug addict (but in an area that was known for high drug use), she was asked in front of her 9-year-old son if she would consider sterilization for £200. Upset by the assumptions, Ms. Wilson asked these women to be left alone, but was harassed up until the point that her bus arrived. The police in the area issued a statement soon after that if anybody else was approached in such a fashion they should call the police.
However, this hasn’t hindered the quest of Barbara Harris who is hoping to expand into Ireland. While she’s been criticized by most well-known and respected drug treatment and family planning organizations for her coercive measures she continues to insist that they are both humane and helping save “millions of dollars in taxes.”
Yet, above all, Harris claims she wants to bring awareness to the harm drugs do and stop these abuses. However, such pronouncements are increasingly hard to take seriously in light of her methods. Anyone with even a peripheral knowledge of addiction can see the flaw in giving cash to an addict in return for a favor. An act that will serve to feed an addiction that Mrs. Harris simply does not seem to give a damn about. For her, no addict mothers means no addict babies and no real problem. I’ll leave you with one of the most telling quotes I’ve read so far from Mrs. Harris, whose work has so often been compared to modern eugenics movements: “One of the women who came through our program had 14 babies. She doesn’t know who the fathers are, and that’s usually the case. A lot of times they don’t even know what race the kids are. How sad is that?”
You can contact Project Prevention here.