Program pays addicts to get sterilized

Project Prevention, a national organization that pays drug addicts and
alcoholics $300 cash to get sterilized or use long-term birth control,
will be in Honolulu for the first time today, tomorrow and Thursday in
an ongoing effort to eradicate substance-exposed births.

Since Executive Director Barbara Harris started
the nonprofit in 1997, it has paid well more than 3,000 clients — 29 of
whom are men — sparking controversy about constitutional rights and
racism along the way.

"These
women have baby after baby after baby, and nothing positive comes of
it," Harris said in a phone interview after arriving in Honolulu from
her home base in North Carolina. "I think most people can agree that
it's not OK to abuse children."

Furthermore,
the mothers do not benefit from having babies that get taken away from
them and placed in a foster care system that yields little long-term
hope — not to mention the expense and heartache associated with the
health issues that plague these children.

Repeated
requests sparked Project Prevention to visit Maui in late 2008, but
this will be the organization's first appearance on Oahu.

Project
Prevention targets behavior, not race, according to Harris. Statistics
show that of the 3,242 paid clients in 39 states, 1,600 are Caucasian,
884 African-American, 418 Hispanic and 340 come of other ethnic
backgrounds.

Her actions are rooted in the belief that nobody has the right to push his or her addiction onto an innocent baby.But they also arise from her personal experience. Harris is married to
a black man, with whom she has 10 children. In addition to their six
biracial sons, ages 28 to 39, she and her husband fostered and then
adopted the last four of eight children born to the same drug-addicted
mother.

"I am the only white face in my family," said Harris, who claims that nothing she does is about race.

In
an effort to reach as many people as possible, she and other volunteers
will hand out fliers and educate drug addicts about the possibilities
associated with Project Prevention. To obtain the cash, clients must
show evidence that they have been arrested on narcotic offenses or
provide a doctor's letter confirming they use drugs, according to
www.projectprevention.org. When the medical procedure is done, clients
must produce new documentation to collect. If the client cannot pay for
the procedure, Project Prevention will.

The
program also offers drug treatment referrals to anyone who enters the
program. Harris' focus, however, is addressing more immediate and
realistic goals.

She
chronicles shocking statistics on Twitter. In November she tweeted,
"Just paid 24-year-old VA addict who got a tubal ligation. 6
pregnancies, 3 abortions, 1 stillborn, 1 died after birth and 1 in
foster care." And another: "Just paid a 27-year-old CA addict who had
an IUD inserted. 9 pregnancies, 2 abortions, 1 stillborn, 1 died after
birth, and 5 in foster care."

In
January she tweeted about paying 15 addicts in one day. Between them
they had 60 pregnancies, 28 abortions and 32 births, with 28 of those
children in foster care. The treatment included five tubal ligations,
two vasectomies and two Implanons, a flexible plastic rod the size of a
matchstick inserted under the skin of the arm for birth control that
lasts years or until the device is removed.

In
addition to racial issues, other accusations revolve around social
engineering or eugenic sterilization — notions that Harris dismisses.

"To
me those people are just desperate to go to such extremes to say such
harsh things," she said. People might not be able to openly agree with
her, but she knows many support the cause behind the scenes, because
every week she receives e-mails from social workers and hospital nurses
dealing with drug-addicted newborns all over the country, asking her to
bring the service and information to their city.

"Anybody who sees it and really understands it supports us," she said. It is a major problem but "it's preventable."