By MAGGIE SHEPARD
Scripps Howard News Service
January 17, 2006
In the past eight years, it has struck over 1,600 women in the United States as reasonable.
They participated in Project Prevention, an effort that since 1998 has offered $200 to addicted women who provide doctor's proof they're on birth control.
Last week, Project Prevention upped its offering to $500 to the first 100 women of the year who join and $300 to every participant after that.
However, critics say the program should stop.
Calling the project "eugenics" and coerced sterilization, the National Advocates for Pregnant Women says it's disastrous for women's rights, encourages stereotypes and unfairly targets poor minority women.
Project Prevention founder Barbara Harris deflects such criticism, saying her program is a commonsense approach to a serious problem.
"Our women go in and out of drug treatment dozens of times, but that doesn't keep them from getting pregnant," Harris said in a telephone interview from the headquarters in North Carolina.
Harris started the project in California after adopting four drug-addicted babies in a five-year span _ all from the same drug-addicted mother.
"I was mad. I was so mad. At the beginning, I was mad at the birth mother," Harris said. "But then I was mad at the state agencies and the government that allowed her to do that."
Her adopted children are now ages 16, 15, 13 and 12, she said.
Harris says she tried to get legislation that would mandate long-term birth control for mothers who deliver drug-addicted babies.
That failed, so she collected money from friends and started posting fliers asking addicted women _ and men _ to consider the burdens of creating a drug-addicted baby.
Each woman received a lump sum of $200 or the commitment of $200 a year for the duration of their long-term, doctor-administered birth control.
The pill is not an option, because it can't be monitored. Allowable methods are: Depo-Provera, Essure, Norplant, an IUD or a tubal ligation. Men can participate if they have a vasectomy.
A doctor sends the paperwork to the project, which then sends the client a check.
Harris flat-out calls the payment a bribe.
"We want to get these women on birth control," she said.
While the notion of paying women to go on birth control sounds "problematic," Project Prevention isn't an issue for the American Civil Liberties Union because the government is not involved, said local ACLU chapter spokesman Peter Simonson.
Others voiced stronger concerns.
NARAL Pro-Choice New Mexico Director Giovanna Rossi said she supports educating the women about birth-control options.
"But the financial incentive doesn't really fit into that," Rossi said. "It takes away the free-choice element, in a sense."
A 107-page report by the National Advocates for Pregnant Women echoes that complaint.
The report calls the project overzealous and misdirected. It says payments for birth control could pay for drug treatment instead. And it says that the project targets poor and minority women.
Yvonne Smith, a volunteer who started the Albuquerque chapter of Project Prevention, disputes those charges.
"We do not target any social class of people. We target people with drug and alcohol issues," Smith said.
According to the Project Prevention Web site, about 49 percent of the nearly 1,600 clients paid so far are white, 31 percent black, 10 percent Hispanic and 10 percent other races.
Five years ago, Smith and Harris started the local program by visiting the former Bernalillo County Jail and court probation offices.
"We were trying to go to places where people are with drug and alcohol issues, period," Smith said. "Is a wealthy woman hooked on cocaine likely to come to us for $300? Probably not."
Smith said her efforts to advertise dwindled since the jail moved far outside the city in 2003.
She hopes with the new payment increase, the word will reach more women.
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