Program Vows To Depopulate Drug Addicts and Pays People To Get Sterilized
A woman has spear-headed an organization to depopulate drug addicts by paying women with drug or alcohol addictions to stop having kids.
It all began for Barbara Harris with an 8-month-old baby she named Destiny.
The child, born to a mother addicted to drugs, had been removed from her troubled home by the state of California. She was the fifth child who'd been born to that mother and subsequently taken away.
The Harrises took Destiny in, adopted her, and helped her through withdrawal symptoms.
A year later they did the same for a boy they called Isiah -- the sixth child born to that same mother.
"The next year we received a phone call that she had had her seventh baby, a baby girl. Did we want her? My husband said, 'Barbara, I'm not buying a school bus,'" Harris remembers.
They took the little girl, Taylor, and then one more son, Brandon.
"It was important to me that they grow up together," Harris said.
It was then that their new family took on a mission.
"Everybody was complaining about the fact that these women are having too many babies, but nobody was doing anything to stop them," Harris said.
She started an organization she named C.R.A.C.K. -- Children Require a Caring Kommunity. (The name has since been changed to Project Prevention.)
She announced that she'd begin paying women with drug or alcohol addictions to stop having kids.
Harris visits seedy neighborhoods to offer drug addicts and alcoholics cash if they'll agree to go on a long-term birth control or be sterilized.
The payment is $300 for women who get their tubes tied. About one-third of her clients have chosen that option.
The others have agreed to a less permanent IUD or an implanted birth control like Implanon. Those women get the $300 payments yearly if they stay on the birth control.
The program requires proof of addiction established by court records or a statement from a government official. A doctor must sign a contract that states that the client had a tubal ligitation or a long-term birth control implanted before a check is mailed.
Men are eligible, and Harris says 47 have been paid to have vasectomies. She's paid more than 3,300 women.
How does she ensure that the money is not spent on drugs? In short, she doesn't. "They can spend the money on whatever they want. That's their choice. The babies don't have a choice," Harris said.
Project Prevention's critics have complaints about everything from Harris's language to her method.
Dr. Hytham Imseis, an obstetrician at Presbyterian Hospital, works with high-risk pregnant women, including drug addicts. He says the language Harris has used in the past to describe drug addicts stereotypes them instead of helping.
(She once talked about the "litters" of babies that drug-addicted women have, and compared her program to neutering and spaying animals.)
"There is a much more constructive way of doing this," Imseis said.
Imseis cites research that finds that a mother's drug addiction is not as dangerous for a child as once thought. He says many of the adverse affects of that life are brought on by poverty, and not drugs.
"We need to focus on treatment rather than on this sort of strategy of sterilization of an entire population," Imseis said.
The cash incentive? He calls it bribery.
"It's not about empowerment. It's about control, and when you try to control any particular group and as a society try to prevent them from reproducing, I think you've crossed a line," he said.
'Take it home and raise it'
Harris has been dismissing her critics for many years with a certainty that is indicative of a woman who is sure she is on the right side of the debate.
She insists that her clients are making their own decisions.
"If I were strung out in the streets, giving birth to a baby every year, I would hope to God somebody would stop me, by any means," she said.
This week, she is in London finalizing an expansion of Project Prevention into Europe. She's been to all 50 states in the U.S. The response -- especially interest from the British media -- has been tremendous, she says.
"If you believe strongly these women have a right to procreate," she says to her critics, "then get to the hospital and the next time one's born, take it home and raise it."