Billboards are sprouting up across the country, advertising a $200 cash giveaway to drug addicts. The "catch" is that recipients must undergo sterilization.
This cash-for-sterilization initiative is fostered by a private program called CRACK (Children Requiring a Caring Kommunity). CRACK began in Anaheim, California and has now spread to other states, including Illinois, Texas and Florida. The program's goal is to reduce the number of drug-addicted newborns, which in theory sounds admirable. In practice, however, offering addicts cash bribes to prevent procreation is reminiscent of the eugenics programs initiated earlier in the century. In the United States between the 1930s and 1970s and also in Hitler's Germany, thousands of "undesirables" were sterilized because it was "inefficient" to allow "the degenerate and unfit to produce."
A couple of years ago, Barbara Harris, who adopted four children from their drug-addicted mother, founded CRACK in hopes of "saving one child from the agony [her] kids have been through." While Harris recognizes that offering cash to addicts in exchange for their fertility is "controversial," she claims it is "worth it."
A Planned Parenthood official disagrees, saying, "Coercing women into sterilization by exploiting the condition of their addiction is just plain wrong."
Despite the opposition of reproductive rights advocates, the program has expanded from its original base in Anaheim to another office in Chicago. Recognizing the "'huge potential' in Chicago for sterilization," Lyle Keller, the organizer of the Chicago CRACK program, predicted that "similar programs would begin soon in New York, Philadelphia and other cities."
To date, Harris reports that the program has paid for the sterilization of 59 drug-addicted females. Although the participants have been black, white and Hispanic, many perceive the program as targeting minority groups. As a result, one radio station described the program as "genocidal."
While the privately funded CRACK program stresses that participation is "voluntary," the ability of drug addicts to provide informed, voluntary consent has been challenged. "Dangling $200 in front of seriously addicted women seriously calls into question whether participation is voluntary," said Steve Trombley, president of Chicago Planned Parenthood. Priscilla Smith, deputy director of litigation for the Center for Reproductive Law and Policy, added, "If you are extremely indigent and on drugs, this smacks of forced sterilization."
The United States is no stranger to "compulsory sterilization." One famous case occurred in the early seventies in Alabama. The Reif sisters, two poverty-stricken black teenagers, were operated on and unknowingly sterilized by order of the Montgomery Community Action Committee. The girls' mother, who was illiterate, thought she had agreed to allow Depo-Provera birth control injections to be given to her daughters. However, she was deceived and unwittingly "consented" to her daughters' permanent sterilization.
The director of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare estimated that between 100,000 and 200,000 sterilizations had been conducted on young women, like the Reif sisters, in one year alone.
Why so many sterilizations? In Buck v. Bell (1926), Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, in one of his more inhumane moments, wrote: "It is better for all the world, if society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind....Three generations of imbeciles is enough." Thus, the "official" reason for sterilization was "to prevent the reproduction of 'mentally deficient persons.'" However, the "unofficial" reason for sterilizing those stricken by poverty, disease or addiction could be explained in the words and deeds of Dr. Clovis Pierce, an obstetrician in Aiken, South Carolina. Dr. Clovis sterilized Medicaid recipients if they had two or more children, explaining that he was "...tired of people running around and having babies and paying for them with my taxes.'"
Similarly, advocates of these cash-for-sterilization programs argue that the taxpayers bear the expensive medical costs of caring for an addict's child. But rehabilitation, not sterilization, should be the means of decreasing these expenses.