Cash, birth control offered to drug users

March 23, 2019

HUNTINGTON — Project Prevention has been called controversial or common sense, depending on who’s talking about it, since Barbara Harris founded the nonprofit in the wake of Los Angeles’ crack epidemic in the late 1990s.

The mission is simple, yet always seems to start a conversation wherever it’s heard: encourage those with substance use disorder to seek long-term birth control options.

Preventing unwanted pregnancies for mothers unfit to care for their children would, on its face, be a no-brainer for a state with currently more than 7,000 children in foster care — driven largely by the opioid epidemic.

But it’s the tempting offer dangled above those in addiction that catches the most attention, and likewise the most controversy: Project Prevention will pay current drug addicts $300 to volunteer for long-term birth control, including the option for sterilization.

The now-Charlotte-based nonprofit will promote itself in Huntington and Charleston beginning Sunday, March 24, through Tuesday, March 26 — a campaign mostly of moving billboards and signage to drum up interest. The $300 is now a flat rate paid after receiving a number of birth control options, such as intrauterine devices (IUDs), implants and tubal ligations — all of which are reversible. Birth control pills are not an option, Harris said, as those in addiction aren’t likely to regularly take them.

“To me, it’s common sense,” Harris said in a call Friday. “If you’re on drugs, be on birth control until you get your life together and can care for the children you conceive.”

Sterilization is an option for women who have had three or more children, she added. While they do pay for male vasectomies, most of their clients are women.

Harris said nearly 8,000 clients have voluntarily been placed on birth control since the group’s inception.

“We don’t push for people to be sterilized. We’re perfectly happy with an IUD,” Harris said.

“We’re not dragging people off the street and sterilizing them. It’s totally their choice.”

To qualify, potential clients must first provide some evidence of active addiction, like a statement from a recovery facility, and then meet with a physician to discuss birth control options. Once a doctor signs off, the procedure and payment are completed.

But the concept of offering birth control to a target population, particularly one vulnerable to the allure of an easy $300, has raised concerns in the communities where the program promotes itself — and Harris recognized they’re not always well received.

In the past, Harris herself has compared it to spaying or neutering dogs, but contends that it’s not eugenics — a belief that a human population can be improved by such means as discouraging reproduction by people having genetic defects or presumed to have inheritable undesirable traits.

Instead, Harris said, it’s prevention.

“It’s no different from these women who have multiple abortions, and people don’t have a problem with that,” Harris said. “That’s OK, but getting them on birth control and preventing that is not OK?”

Harris also acknowledged that giving $300 to someone in active addiction could mean fueling the person’s drug habit. But she argues they would still use drugs or alcohol with or without that extra cash. If they’re on birth control, she continued, at least there won’t be a child involved.

Project Prevention was originally founded as Children Requiring a Caring Kommunity, or CRACK, before rebranding. The nonprofit is funded entirely through outside donations, Harris said, adding that it has never had a problem with raising enough money from both progressive and conservative donors alike. One of the project’s most prominent donors was the late billionaire and philanthropist Jack Taylor, founder of Enterprise Rent-A-Car.

The organization can be contacted at 888-30-CRACK (27225).