Coercion has always been a hallmark of international population control. Many of these programs are characterized by women in dire circumstances being driven by promises of money to accept sterilization or contraception. It seems unlikely that such a program, all too common in the developing world, would ever happen in the United States. But coercive population control might be a lot closer than we think.
A non-profit organization in California, called Children Requiring A Caring Kommunity (CRACK), is offering drug addicted women $200 if they will agree to be sterilized, or to use another method of long term birth control, such as Norplant, Depo Provera, or an IUD. As of 11 August 1999, 61 women had taken advantage of the program and received payment. Of the 61 women, 44 have been sterilized, nine are using the implant Norplant, six are on Depo Provera, and two have had IUDs inserted.
CRACK was begun by Barbara Harris, a California mother who, in addition to raising her own children, has adopted four babies born to the same drug-addicted mother. Becoming a foster parent, and later adoptive mother, made Harris aware of the problem of substance-exposed infants. These children suffer from an array of effects ranging from learning disabilities to drug addiction and mental retardation. Harris decided something needed to be done to stop drug addicts from having children. When her original plan to pass a law in the California state Assembly making it a crime for drug addicts to have babies failed, Harris turned to a one-at-a-time approach.1
Emphasis on Birth Reduction
The CRACK website (www.cracksterilization.com) talks about drug treatment programs and referrals for drug addicts, but the emphasis of the organization is on preventing the birth of babies whose mothers are addicted to drugs. The website reads “It is the sole focus of the CRACK organization to offer women the chance to put an end to an endless array of drug babies.” It also refers to its “aggressive preventive measures in regard to these destructive drug pregnancies.” The motto on the front of their brochure describes their programs as “Offering cash incentives to drug addicted men/women for their participation in long term/permanent birth control.”
CRACK offers the case of Sharon Adams. Drug addicted and pregnant with her fourteenth child, Adams decided in the delivery room to have a tubal ligation. A nurse at the hospital told her about CRACK and she became one their clients. For Adams, the money from CRACK was not the crucial factor in deciding be sterilized. “Money or not, I still wanted my tubes tied,” she states. But for the majority of CRACK’s cases, the money is indeed a great incentive. CRACK states on their website: “Drug addicts are no different than the rest of us in a sense that they are also motivated by money. For each volunteer of our birth control plan, the $200 CASH offer is the driving force that gets them to consider long term or permanent birth control.” In California, the state often pays for sterilizations, but Harris believes that the incentive of a free procedure is not enough. An additional financial incentive has to be offered to convince drug addicts to forfeit their ability to get pregnant.
Without Full Consent
This brings up question of informed consent, Can a woman who is addicted to drugs, whose craving for another high is so great that she would probably do anything to get more drugs, really make an informed decision to render her body permanently unable to bear children? Some women even prostitute their bodies to get the money to support their drug habit. It is likely, then, that many would undergo a procedure they do not even want in order to get money for their drug habit. The literature from CRACK feeds on this desire. One flyer reads “Don’t Let Pregnancy Ruin Your Drug Habit.”2 Their billboard states “If you are addicted to Drugs get birth control — get $200 cash.”
Many of the women responding to CRACK’s offer are young. Marie Claire magazine interviewed Ernestine Garcia, a young woman with three children, who was paid by CRACK for having a tubal ligation. At 21 she has forfeited the possibility of ever having more children. Despite the fact that her own doctor refused to sterilize her because of her age, Garcia is convinced she made the right decision. “I don’t know if I can stay clean forever… I can’t trust myself to be a good mom,” she told Marie Claire. Her chemical dependency counselor Sandra Rincon is not so sure: “Women who have just landed from drug abuse can have poor judgment and I don’t think Ernestine was thinking clearly… After several years of being clean, she might want the opportunity to have kids again.”3
Barbara Harris is adamant that her sympathies lie with the children whose lives she wishes to prevent and not with their desperate mothers. Her attitude towards these women comes through clearly in her statement that drug addicted women are “having litters. They are literally having litters.”4 This sounds more like a discussion of animals rather than human persons, which is only reinforced in another statement; “We campaign to neuter dogs and yet we allow women to have 10 or 12 kids that they can’t take care of.”5
In an attempt to offset accusations of racism, the CRACK website is quick to point out that more white women than black have accepted the offer thus far. Of the 61 women, 26 have been white, 24 black, and 11 Hispanic. What this fails to take into account is the way these numbers compare with the percentages of the different races within the population. Blacks make up only 12 percent of the general population, but 39% of CRACK acceptors. Whites, on the other hand, make up nearly 72% of the population, but only 43% of CRACK clients. The percentage of Hispanics is slightly more balanced, making up 11.5% of the population and 18% of CRACK clients.6
Marketing for Expansion
At present, CRACK is still a small operation. Their 1998 IRS Form 990 shows revenues of $90,256, pocket change compared to the money spent on international population control programs by wealthy Americans. And yet, they are growing. The website recently announced that they will be expanding into Fresno, San Francisco and Seattle in the months to come. Billboards have already been established in Chicago and Florida.
“Project Prevention,” as CRACK calls this program, has many sympathizers, who see it as the answer to a social ill. Popular radio host Dr. Laura Schlessinger feels so strongly about the program that she has donated $5,000 to the cause. The CRACK brochure includes a quote from her stating “Some organizations just need me to mention them. Others just need my money. I felt this was an organization that not only needed my money but my name too.” Radio host and Denver Post columnist Ken Hamblin writes “I say 200 bucks is a minuscule sum to spend if it will prevent a junkie from contributing another baby to the junk heap of urban poverty and human misery.”7
Another CRACK supporter, Carla Cash, a radio show host in Richmond, VA, writes “Your mercy may spare another child from being forced to exist, not live, but exist in a deplorable lifestyle.” One has only to look at the pictures of Barbara Harris’ own four adopted children to know that they do not just exist, but indeed live full, productive, and happy lives. Is this the life that she would have denied to other babies born of drug addicted mothers?
Barbara Harris claims that one of the advantages of her program is that it will reduce the number of abortions. It is certainly true that drug addicted women have a significant number of abortions. The 61 women paid by CRACK had 446 pregnancies among them, of which 169 were aborted. Yet her claim is somewhat disingenuous given that her first goal was to make it illegal for drug addicts to have children. If there were legal penalties in place for giving birth, it is even more likely that pregnant drug addicts would seek abortion as a way to avoid criminal prosecution.
The problem with convincing people of the abusive aspect of this program is that drug addicts are not easy objects of sympathy. This very fact makes them an easy target for population controllers. Far better to spend the money on programs that would help these women clean up their lives and take care of their children than to spend it bribing them into procedures they may live to regret.
Sarah Dateno is PRI’s Executive Assistant to the President
1 Jeff Stryker, “Cracking Down,” Salon Magazine, http://www.salonmagazine.com/mwt/feature/1998/07/cov_10feature.html.
3 Jennifer Wolff, “I was paid $200 to be sterilized,” Marie Claire, July 1999, 58–62.
6 US Census Bureau, http://www.census.gov/population/estimates/nation/intfile3-1.txt