Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Project Prevention: This is the Alternative to Choice?

Thanks to reader Antheia, I have been alerted to this organization: Project Prevention. Here is their mission statement:

Project Prevention works to prevent the tragedy of babies being born to drug-addicted mothers by offering a cash incentive for clients to utilize long-term or permanent birth control.

Today's Philadelphia Inquirer ran this following story on Project Prevention. Here is an excerpt:

Group pays drug addicts to obtain birth control

The effort, which has been controversial in other cities, is being promoted in Phila.

By Angela Couloumbis

Inquirer Staff Writer

Ernestine Pitts is 40, addicted to crack, and has just had her 17th child in 24 years. She's been in and out of rehab, eaten out of garbage cans when she was strung out, and when she wasn't high straddled the line between the right and wrong paths.

Yesterday, standing in front of her rowhouse near 23d and Berks Streets, she was handed a business card she said could change her future.

The card was from a North Carolina nonprofit group called Project Prevention. It listed a toll-free number to get long-term birth control, such as a hormone injection or an intrauterine device (IUD), or surgical sterilization - along with $200.

"I'll consider it," Pitts said as several of her children played barefoot on the sidewalk yesterday afternoon. "It's hard raising kids. And when you're on crack... I struggle with it. I struggle hard."

Project Prevention's method of offering cash incentives to drug- and alcohol-addicted mothers who agree to long-term or permanent birth control has sparked controversy in most every other city the group has visited in the seven years it has been in existence.

Its method has been called radical and inhumane and has pitted it against groups like the American Civil Liberties Union and the NAACP. Critics have said that the money - which comes from donations - would be better spent on treating drug addiction. "One has to look at how coercive the program is and whether these women understand what their rights are and what their options are," said Larry Frankel, legislative director of the Pennsylvania ACLU. But the group\'s founder, Barbara Harris, who is in Philadelphia through today to spread word of its services, believes hers is the only method that works in cracking down on the number of drug- and alcohol-addicted babies born every year. Many of those children, she said yesterday, have severe emotional and medical problems. They can end up in foster care, become homeless, be infected with HIV, or become trapped into living with a drug-addicted parent. "I call that legal child abuse," said Harris, 53, who has raised six children of her own, has adopted four siblings from a crack-addicted mother in Los Angeles, and has three foster children. "Drug addicts are very irresponsible," she added. "They\'re not thinking about the fact that they may get pregnant. They\'re thinking about how they are going to feed their addiction... . Money motivates. Money gets their attention." Since its launch in the late 1990s, Project Prevention has paid 1,594 clients to participate in the program, the group says. Women who want to participate call a toll-free number, leave their telephone or mailing address, and are mailed forms that they must fill out and take to a doctor or clinic. The forms must be mailed back, along with proof of a drug or alcohol problem. Once Project Prevention has verified that a woman has received a type of long-term birth control, she is mailed a check for $200. The group has visited about 30 cities and is in Philadelphia for the first time since its launch. Its method has been called radical and inhumane and has pitted it against groups like the American Civil Liberties Union and the NAACP. Critics have said that the money - which comes from donations - would be better spent on treating drug addiction.

Honestly, I know very little about this program, but I find it quite disturbing. Perhaps because it smacks of that "incentive" sort of approach to dealing with social problems. Rather than comprehensively address social problems like Crack addiction, unintended pregnancies, and access to affordable birth control and health care, we are paying Crack addicts to sterilize themselves.

Perhaps some of you out there can further enligthen me on this program, but I am not certain how this program treats women with dignity and humanity? And, its likely, if it hasn't already, to further encourage women of color to perceive birth control and legal abortions as cultural genocide, since I imagine they disproportionately target women of color.

UPDATE: I read this old Salon article on the founder, Barbara Harris. It gives her background and explains her "tough love" philosophy.

Here is a snippet

Conservative radio host and Denver Post columnist Ken Hamblin was equally impassioned. "[Harris'] words of wisdom and tough love seem to be lost on the bleeding heart feminist liberals," he wrote in December. "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."

Lovely! Go Pro-Life!