International Women's Issues

Project Prevention: Exploiting for the Cause

“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.

By Olivia Marudan

Cad. Boondoggler. Swindler. Ass. Plagiarist. Hutcher. A movable feast in the subtle culinary art of shit talking.

15 replies on “Project Prevention: Exploiting for the Cause”

This is completely outrageous, especially for the fact that a drug addict will do anything if a bit of green is put in front of them (and I mean money not weed). This is working on an addict’s vulnerability and basically giving them drugs for sterilization. Most, if not all, addicts have no sense of the future. By putting that money in their hands she is giving them drugs. That is one of many reasons why what she is doing should be stopped.

This woman is a horrible asshole, but we would be remiss if we didn’t recognize that Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, was also a negative eugenicist. Obviously Planned Parenthood as it is now is not what it was then and has certainly evolved beyond Sanger’s philosophy towards birth control, but the relationship between birth control and eugenics is long and sordid. Apparently Ms. Harris is of the old-school belief that birth control’s use isn’t to encourage reproductive freedom, but reproductive restriction. The most insidious thing about this is that this woman probably believes she is actually doing something good.

Twenty bucks says that this causes yet another anti-choice resurgence of anti-PP sentiment…”look, you hate this lady’s ideology, but YOUR ORGANIZATION’S FOUNDER DID THE SAME! BET YOU DIDN’T KNOW!”

Like that “abortion” clinic that was really a mutilation house. Grumblegrumble.

Of course she believes she’s doing something good. She is part of a large group of people who think that women’s reproductive rights can and should be controlled by those who know better. Just like Margaret Sanger, just like all the politicians who think we need to pass legislation to “protect” women from themselves and/or groups like PP which will sway their feeble lady-minds towards having an abortion (because providing abortions is so lucrative).

Unrelated: our on-campus pro-choice group recently attended a workshop, and one of our activities was to name a “dream speaker” for a hypothetical event. Someone said Margaret Sanger. I nearly pulled my hair out. We obviously have to credit her with the existence of Planned Parenthood, but she doesn’t represent what we do or what we stand for today.

I’m sorry, but I had to stop reading the post to immediately correct a Grave Mistake up there in the first 2 paragraphs regarding IUDs.

IUDs do not, do not, do NOT, do notnotnot increase the risk for infections. That is a common misconception that has its roots in the history of IUDs where the Dalkon Shield which was common in the 1970’s had a particular string that wicked bacteria and did, in fact, increase PID. It is off the market, and none of the currently available IUDs have that problem. This is a Very Important thing to clarify because this misconception, among both patients and doctors prevents many, many, many women from having access to the most highly effective, well tolerated form of reversible birth control we have. Anyone of you ever heard of docs saying that a lady who’s never had a baby can’t have an IUD? Its nonsense and is a left over vestige of the misguided fear that an IUD will cause an infection and then cause infertility. It is true that if you have an iud inserted while you have an active gonhorrea or chlamydia infection the risk of getting PID is greatly increased, but that is why we test at or before the time of insertion and treat any discovered infections.

Not saying that anyone should be paying drug dependent patients to get IUDs. (Though, if someone had been willing to pay for my iud when I was uninsured I would have been pretty freaking happy.) But, the idea that these women are people who shouldn’t get IUDs if they want them is total bunk, and spreading that myth can have implications for birth control of ladies everywhere.

Off soapbox.

The source for that information was my doctor who recommended an IUD for me. A childless, non married woman. She was very adamant that I be extremely careful about STI’s with an IUD in because of that linkage to PID. IUD’s are not without drawbacks and do pose a number of health risks.

Although I certainly agree there is a large amount of misinformation about them out there. If the link does not exist except for during insertion (although I would not trust that group with testing prior to insertion) then I happily concede it as a great birth control option for all (I am a big fan of those!).

But I wanted to explain why I felt accurate and safe in referencing the opinion of my doctor who used to work at the Swedish Woman’s Clinic in Seattle and had explained to me the ins and outs about IUD use.

The risk of PID directly attributable to iud in is estimated by the most reputible studies to range from 0.15% to 0.4% in even high risk populations, and is vanishingly small in low risk populations. So, it is definitely an overstatement to say that iuds pose a ‘number of health risks’ (not including the 1:500 risk of uterine perforation at insertion). If you screen your candidates appropriately – meaning, test them for sti at insertion and in a high risk population, maybe re-screen at a 3 month interval to look for a new infection acquired just around the time of insertion – the risk of causing harm is negligble.

One of my family planning mentors used to say that the test of your own belief in the new literature on IUDs that puts the pid question to rest is whether you would put one in a sexually active 13 year old and if you would put one in a sex worker. I would do either.

BLERG. I wrote a paper on the criminalization of pregnant women for a class last year and while doing research for it came across Project Prevention – I hadn’t heard of them before, and I didn’t realize until reading your post that they have expanded to the UK. I feel like in the past few years, I’ve been reading more and more about efforts like these; I can recall a few articles, one of them from within the last week or two, about judges trying to make sterilization a condition of parole for women (and I believe some men too, but it doesn’t seem to happen nearly so frequently). It’s extremely troubling.

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