Should Addicts Be Sterilized?

Jed Bickman, Salon, May 2, 2012

“Don’t let a pregnancy ruin your drug habit,” the slogan on the fliers reads. Another says, “She has her daddy’s eyes…and her mommy’s heroin addiction.” Then: “Get birth control, get ca$h.” These are posters that show up nationwide in homeless shelters and methadone clinics, in AA and NA meeting rooms and near needle exchange programs, distributed by volunteers for Project Prevention. Formerly called Children Requiring a Caring Kommunity (CRACK), the controversial nonprofit pays drug addicts $300 to either undergo sterilization or use a form of long-term, “no responsibility needed” birth control.

“What makes a woman’s right to procreate more important than the right of a child to have a normal life?” Project Prevention founder Barbara Harris told Time magazine in 2010. The question is entirely rhetorical: her self-professed mission in life is to zero out the number of births to parents who abuse illegal drugs, particularly crack cocaine. “Even if these babies are fortunate enough not to have mental or physical disabilities, they’re placed in the foster-care system and moved from home to home,” she says.

Critics of many stripes have piled on. They argue that Harris’ campaign deprives women who are addicted, poor and vulnerable of reproductive choice even as it feeds their drug habit.

Some opponents say that, since the financial incentive is tantamount to giving addicts money to buy drugs, Project Prevention should be illegal.


And many opponents say that the payment is a bribe, and some have even called Project Prevention a revival of the eugenics movement.

Harris takes none of these criticisms seriously. The California foster mother, age 59, started the program in 1997, following her failed effort to get the Prenatal Neglect Act through the California state legislature. The bill would have made it a crime for a pregnant woman to use illegal drugs. (Such laws exist in many states: last week’s Sunday New York Times Magazine profiled an Alabama woman named Amanda Kimbrough who is serving 10 years in prison for doing crystal meth while pregnant and giving birth after only 25 weeks to a very underweight baby who died.) Shifting tactics, the homegrown activist then began her campaign for a less punitive, if more final, solution to the “problem” of drug-addicted mothers bringing children into the world: pay them not to procreate.

“We don’t allow dogs to breed. We neuter them. We try to keep them from having unwanted puppies, and yet these women are literally having litters of children,” Barbara Harris says.

Though based in North Carolina, Project Prevention mainly targets the nation’s major cities, especially poor and minority communities—“drug areas,” in Harris’s words. In addition to posting fliers, volunteers do ride-alongs with police; a mobile billboard (see the photo on The Fix homepage) tours the country.

Harris originally offered addicts $300 for sterilization and only $200 for contraception, but the ensuing bad press—mainly charges that the program was incentivizing addicted women to choose an irreversible decision about reproduction—put an end to that practice. In fact, the vast majority of the birth-control procedures come on the government’s dime, via Medicaid. After the procedures, the women send the medical paperwork and a “paper trail” that proves that they are addicts—”usually arrest records”—to Project Prevention to receive their check. {snip}

Project Prevention has paid a total of 4,077 people (including 65 men), 987 of whom have been African-Americans, to get a tubal ligation (tube-tying) or an IUD, implanon (a hormonal contraceptive that is implanted in a woman’s arm), Depo-Provera (an injection that lasts three months) or (for men) a vasectomy, Harris says.

Those numbers aren’t overwhelming, given that the project is in its second decade. Yet with its goal to “save our welfare system and the world from the exorbitant cost to the taxpayer for each drug-addicted birth,” Project Prevention has sparked a firestorm of opposition.

The outrage stems as much from what Harris says as from what Project Prevention does. For one thing, in the considerable press she has sparked, Harris typically characterizes her target population less as drug-addicted women than as breeding machines, spitting out a baby a year.

“I became more angry at the system that allows [these drug-addicted women] to drop babies off yearly at the hospital with no consequences,” she told The Fix. “If there’s a scale, and it’s between her never having any more babies and her having five more babies who may be damaged, then what’s more important? For me it’s the children. And if she can’t have any more children, then that’s just the consequence of her actions, like getting AIDS or something.”


Another of her favorite comparisons, not surprisingly, is to dogs. ”We don’t allow dogs to breed,” she said. “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.” Given the chance to distance herself from this comment on a segment on 60 Minutes II, she doubled down, saying, “It’s the truth—they don’t just have one and two babies, they have litters.”

Her statements only invite charges that her entire campaign is racist, targeting as it does crack-cocaine users. In defense, Harris, who is white, likes to cite the fact that her husband is black and, even more counterintuitively, that they adopted and raised four black children from a crack-addicted Los Angeles mother.


In 2009, Los Angeles Times columnist Sandy Banks wrote glowingly about Harris’ campaign as not only a cost savings for the foster-care system but a benefit for the mothers themselves. “So we can talk about women’s rights or about the privilege of procreation. However we cast the conversation, there is one truth we can’t avoid: We are helping mothers heal when we keep unwanted children from being born.”

Paying poor women who are addicted to drugs to undergo sterilization obviously leads to a thicket of troubling moral issues, even if it falls short of outright eugenics. In addition to the racism accusations, there is criticism that Project Prevention betrays an abuse of women’s right to informed consent. If a person who is addicted to crack cocaine and has few material resources is in no position to assume responsibility for a baby, are they truly capable of making long-term or permanent decisions about their reproductive health?

Both the American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood say no, and many bioethicists agree. “Rewarding someone for having a surgical procedure, they note, violates a basic principle of medical ethics: Health care decisions should be made by patients, without any form of pressure,” Barry Yeoman wrote in Mother Jones magazine in 2001.



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  • Hunter Morrow

    This is a great idea. Bravo.


  • Southern__Hoosier

    Let me guess, many of the women are “crack hoes”. So this program is racist, it just nobody is saying so.

  • This would be great if it wasnt reverseable. Crack babies cost a lot of taxpayer money.

  • loyalwhitebriton

    Should Addicts Be Sterilised?


  • frmore

    Why stop at addicts? A onetime, privately funded $20K stipend for sterilization of both men and women would be well worth the investment. The crowds would be larger than those for an Air Jordan shoe riot.

  • Greg West

    All repeat offenders should be sterilized as anyone that is on welfare though temporarily.

    Perhaps permanently sterilizing anyone with an I.Q below 80 is a good idea too.

  • No

    All blacks under the IQ of 85 (which should be well over half of them), all black females on public aid and all black felons should be sterilized.  That will cut a huge chunk out of the drug addled.  All illegal mestizos should be sterilized when caught as the price for sneaking into  America.  You want in?  Fine.  Snip. Snip. 

    Controlling blacks and mestizo reproduction will thin out the herd substantially.  Voluntary sterilization programs are good but some drug addicted whites are suffering from something else and thae addiction is a symptom.  Cure the “something else” and the white person can be a productive.

    With non-whites, there is nothing short of a brain transplant and insertion of a white soul that will make the sub-human turn into a productive human.

  • Natassia

    “If a person who is addicted to crack cocaine and has few material resources is in no position to assume responsibility for a baby, are they truly capable of making long-term or permanent decisions about their reproductive health?”

    Well, they chose to have sex, didn’t they?

  • Oil Can Harry

    No wonder Planned Parenthood is outraged: the more crackhoes who get their tubes tied the less moolah PP get for abortions.

  • Fakeemail

    I’m not a utopianist, but I imagine the closest the human race could ever get to is through sterilization and eugenics.  If properly applied, it could be the only way to truly relax the inherent conflict in the human race.

    Men could be born with inborn talents to become high achievers.   The supply of attractive, slim, and intelligent women would be bountiful.  The time, effort, and pain of mating warfare would come close to ceasing because of these market forces.

    And of course, all the flagrantly undesirable genes get thrown out.  Also throw out the  predispositions to heart disease, cancer, etc.

    But I’m sure even if this technology existed, there would be some Orwellian nightmare where someone like Obama is choosing who to weed out.  Not to say that someone sufficiently intelligent with a sane worldview could make it right, either.

  • That organization isn’t the only one that is paying addicts to submit to sterilization. I looked into this practice several years ago after accidentally finding a site that was connected to an agency in St. Louis that paid crackheads to undergo permanent sterilization. As far as I could tell at that time, there were at least a dozen organizations providing this much needed service.

    Too bad eugenics got such a bad reputation after WW2. The natural alternative to eugenics, dysgenics, has been in full swing ever since. 

  • NM156

    The agonized and conflicted left wing kooks commenting in the article’s comments made me laugh out loud.

  • ageofknowledge

    No addicts should not be forcibly sterilized. No one should be. However, voluntary sterilization should be required for anyone applying for welfare.

  • STERILIZE minority welfare recipients

    THAT WILL take care of any FUTURE addicts

  • Unperson

    I’d never heard of such a program before, and I’m heartened to hear it’s been going for 15 years without the Left shutting it down. Four thousand operations during that time is, as has been noted, but a down-payment on what is really needed — but bravo to Barbara Harris just the same for making Project Prevention happen at all. She is keeping the Eugenics movement’s pilot-light on at a time when it has been all but extinguished. May many other org’s come along in future and build upon Ms. Harris’ efforts… because there are lot more pathetic, trouble-making homo sapiens out there besides just narcotics addicts who are long overdue for having their herds thinned out a little (and in some cases a lot). Not killed, but culled.

    It’s not so much that I’m pro-Eugenics. The problem is that, if a society ISN’T practicing Eugenics, it is automatically and unavoidably practicing Dysgenics. There is no neutral or “stasis” territory between the two: if reproduction of the above-average and the desirable isn’t actively encouraged,  reproduction of the below-average and the undesirable will surely take place instead.

    FURTHER READING: The August 1980 Playboy Interview with William Shockley is worth a google — although without ponying up for a membership to the mag’s website it can be hard to find for free. I happened upon this remarkable interview about 10 years ago — several years before I discovered AmRen — and it was my introduction to Eugenics as anything other than “that crazy horrible stuff the Nazis did.” I was, at a time,  still pretty much a rainbow-flavored liberal and not really open to hearing such ideas. But despite the unsympathetic (and non-white) interviewer that Playboy sent to talk to Prof. Shockley, I found myself unable to argue against Shockley’s “shocking” statements. And I live by a motto that is my own facetious version of Johnnie Cochran’s “If the glove don’t fit, you must acquit”, which is, “If you can’t refute, it must be the troot.” And I couldn’t refute. Consequently, it was an uncomfortable read, but became an important “conversion moment” for me.

  • DreamShatterer

    You can do eugenics without “scary things” such as sterilization. 

    You just have to cut all welfare, and encourage via both societal changes and monetary rewards (Singapore-style) the breeding of the most intelligent elements of society.

    Two centuries later, your country is the new superpower, and is already exploring the galaxy.

  • Who cares if it’s racist?

    As if it’s the white man’s fault that blacks are overwhelmingly more addicted to crack-cocaine than any other race.  Yeah, sorry, I don’t buy that one bit.

  • Davyruggs

    I am an avid reader of Amren & I also have been in A.A for 10 years. I have never heard any one discuss this inside or outside of a A.A meeting