Cash for birth control may sound unusual, but it’s one woman’s crusade to stop drug addicts and alcoholics from giving birth.
Barbara Harris started “Project Prevention” after watching her four adopted children struggle with drug addiction at birth. Now teens, they’re helping spread her message across the United States.
Parked under a downtown Knoxville overpass Wednesday night sat a 30-foot RV with bold pictures on the outside of it.
The same people who drove it here passed out flyers and talked to anyone who would listen.
“My heart is for the children. These women have a choice, but children don’t,” Harris explains.
The organization pays women who are drug addicts or alcoholics a one time amount of $300 to get permanent birth control.
If they choose to get long-term birth control, $300 is paid out each year they use it.
Men can also get involved and get a one time amount of $300 for having a vasectomy.
Documented proof of a drug addiction or alcohol problem is mandatory to qualify.
What we’re looking at here is the exploitation of a vulnerable population of women. (While the program is open to men, less than 1% of those who have taken the deal have actually been men.) Because I don’t know about you, but I don’t know a whole lot of people who aren’t currently interested in permanent birth control who would suddenly become interested for a rather lousy $300. I can only imagine, in fact, that someone would take such a deal only if they were incredibly desperate for money (and not only because of addiction, but also because of unbearable living expenses, etc.).
And so when Harris dismisses the question of women using their $300 to buy drugs with “it’s their choice,” I really feel nothing but revulsion for her. When we’re talking about handing money to someone on the street, I agree with her — moralizing your decision to not give someone $5 as because they might spend it in ways you don’t like is pretty wrong. But taking something — something serious — from a person for a fairly small amount of money, knowing that they’re likely only doing it because they lack other options, and then doing it anyway? That’s an entirely different ballgame altogether.
Of course, they want us to believe that this is about the babies and not about preventing “undesirable” women from having children. Obviously we’re just supposed to forget the whole history of forcibly sterilizing women of color and poor women and women with disabilities. This is different, you see.
Look, I think it’s pretty damn clear that no one wants babies to be born with fetal alcohol syndrome or other drug exposure related conditions. No one thinks that taking drugs or drinking to excess during pregnancy is a good idea — though it is worth repeated reminding that the crack baby myth is just that, a myth. As far as I’m aware, there’s no one out there who opposes finding ways to prevent negative effects from exposure to addictive substances in the womb — and quite often those looking at prevention do so not only because of concern over infants, but because of the fact that women taking the substances are experiencing negative effects, too.
This, however, is not even remotely the way to go about it. In fact, I’d suggest that if you really want to knock the number of “substance exposed births” down to zero as their website says they do (a rather unlikely goal in my opinion, especially if you’re conflating light use and heavy use, as they seem to be), it seems that there are better places to start not only from an ethical standpoint, but from a practical one. Drug rehabilitation would be a good place. Drug addiction prevention would also work. Even better, so would advocating for policies whereby the state provides treatment services instead of locking addicts up in jail! This would not only reduce the number of addicted pregnant women, but the number of addicted people, period.
Strangely enough, though, they’re still going with the paying women to give up their fertility angle. Project Prevention defends this on their website, saying there’s more than enough funding for drug prevention services, and, well, just not nearly enough for paying desperate women to give up their fertility rights! They’re filling that gap, clearly. They also seem to spend about half of their website defending themselves — which is rather telling, and also somewhat heartening, as it means there has likely been some kind of serious backlash.
The best part is when they co-opt pro-choice rhetoric, in response to the “frequently asked question” of whether these women are making an informed choice:
If you can not trust someone with their reproductive choices, how can you trust them with a child?
Ah, yes. Because asking an anti-choice person how exactly a pregnant woman who they think was going to “murder” her child can be trusted to care for it if they force her against her will to carry to term, is exactly the same as pointing out that when it’s questionable whether or not someone is making an informed choice, it’s wrong to openly encourage and even pay them to make it.
This answer entirely ignores and attempts to distract from the question. No one opposing what this organization is doing is saying that a woman with an addiction should not be allowed to make her own reproductive choices. We’re saying that women, in fact, should be able to make their own reproductive choices. And that they should be able to make them freely and without economic coercion.