Critics assail plan to give women addicts money to use birth control
October 23, 1999
From Correspondent Rusty Dornin
OAKLAND, California (CNN) -- A California woman's campaign to offer drug-addicted women $200 if they get on long-term birth control has resulted in angry confrontations with critics who call the idea racist and anti-poor.
Barbara Harris, who has adopted four children born to a drug- addicted mother, funds the program with private donations. She says something must be done to stop the cycle of addiction and pregnancy that has resulted in 800,000 babies being born drug-addicted in the United States.
"They're getting pregnant only because they're irresponsible," says Harris. She says 87 women have taken her up on her offer. Most have chosen sterilization, she says.
But some critics believe that the message of the program is that when people are poor, their children don't count.
"It's a cheap shot. These people are already down, and then you're going to wave $200 (in front of them)," says Ethel Long-Scott of the Womens' Economic Agenda Project. "Everybody knows that's not going to help you get housing and that's not going to help you get medical treatment."
Both the Catholic Church and Planned Parenthood also oppose the program.
"To offer them money in a situation where it could be just feeding their habit -- it really smacks of coercion," says Gloria Feldt of Planned Parenthood.
Harris says many of these woman refuse to go into drug programs. If they are on birth control, she says they at least won't be having more babies while they are on the street.
And Harris, who is white, also takes issue with critics who call her project racist. She says more white women have used the program than black women. She took one of her adopted sons, who is black, to a recent protest where her program was assailed.
"Drug addicts come in all colors. And for these women to assume that every drug addict that comes to us is black -- that's stereotyping their own race," she says.
But her arguments did little to sway the crowd in Oakland, where protesters ripped the face off a billboard touting the program. Harris says that kind of reaction only toughens her resolve to continue the project.
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