By Luke Langlands
“If every drug addict woman got into treatment and got clean it would be wonderful, but that’s not the reality…money motivates people – it’s a bribe”. These are the words of Barbara Harris – the founder and head of Project Prevention – the US organization set-up to “bribe” drug addicts into sterilization for $300. Harris is now plying her trade in the UK, with a recent visit to Glasgow and more planned in the future.
Project Prevention has naturally came under a lot of scrutiny and divided the United States public. Some people have branded Harris as “Hitler”, whereas others have applauded her efforts. She had personally adopted four newborns that were suffering from drug withdrawal due to their paternal mother being a drug user during pregnancy. Seeing the children fight their own addictions gave her the idea for her organization.
On the Project Prevention website, Child Protection Worker Jody Allen writes: “As a child protection worker I cannot thank you enough for providing this program…thank goodness you are offering vasectomy’s as well…I always say that people who are anti-abortion and anti-sterilization need to spend a day in child welfare. Keep up the great work.”
Drug support charity Addaction, who help addicts overcome their dependencies in England and Scotland, have described Project Prevention as being “morally reprehensible and irrelevant”, and saying that there is “no place for Project Prevention in the UK”, despite hundreds of inquires through their free-phone UK helpline in a few short weeks.
One strong argument for Project Prevention to not make the transition across the Pacific Ocean is that men and women in the United Kingdom can always access free contraception, including long-term options. The main difference between traditional NHS contraception and Project Prevention sterilization is the money that passes hands from organization to addict – many people judge this as being an unfair bribe when the person is not of clear mind. However, Harris defends herself and the beliefs of her followers: “The last twenty women to be sterilized [by Project Prevention] had one hundred and twenty-one pregnancies…if every drug-addict woman got into treatment and got clean it would be wonderful, but that’s not the reality. If you truly believe that these women have the right to continue to have children, step in line and adopt the next one born”.
Addaction also argue that the sterilization can be detrimental to the drug users, and that many women stop drug use when they fall pregnant: “It’s certainly true that too many children are growing up with drug-using parents, but working with the whole family – as Addaction does – helps stop drug use and improves a child’s prospects dramatically.”
So far, a total of 3,500 drug addicts in the United States have been sterilized, and strong public opinion is growing milder. With Project Prevention UK still in its infancy and their clients still merely at a handful, it is yet to be seen whether or not the United Kingdom will accept the cash-for-sterilization movement in the same way as our American counterparts.