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Cracking Open Crack


Betsy Hartmann

"We

don’t allow dogs to breed. We spay them. We neuter them. We try to keep them

from having unwanted puppies, and yet these women are literally having litters

of children…"

These

are the words of Barbara Harris, founder of the organization CRACK, Children

Requiring a Caring Kommunity. Based in California, CRACK’s mission is to

permanently or temporarily sterilize women with substance abuse problems using

monetary incentives of $200. As of September 1, 1999, 65 women received cash

from CRACK in return for their fertility; 46 of them were permanently

sterilized. CRACK has opened a chapter in Chicago and is planning to expand to

Minnesota, Florida, Seattle and the New England area.

What

is so shocking about CRACK is not only the fact that it exists — eugenic

thinking is all too alive and well in the US — but the fact that it has

received such positive press attention, with favorable articles or editorials in

People, Time, Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire, and the Chicago Tribune. Once again

sacrificing the reproductive rights of poor women and women of color is

considered the simple solution to complex social ills.

In

its fact sheet on CRACK, the Committee on Women, Population and the Environment

lays out the reasons why we should strongly oppose the organization:

1)

CRACK’S MISSION IS ESSENTIALLY EUGENIC. Eugenic sterilization laws in the early

decades of this century led to the compulsory sterilization of some 60,000

Native-Americans, African-Americans, the mentally and physically disabled, and

the poor. Now, at the end of the century, private fertility clinics offer young,

educated and privileged women $2500-50,000 to donate their eggs, while CRACK

offers poor women with substance abuse problems $200 not to have children.

Though

apparently voluntary, CRACK’s incentives have far more to do with coercion than

with choice. Poor women with substance abuse problems are not likely to be able

to make an informed decision about their reproductive capacity if offered cash

as an incentive. CRACK takes advantage of their vulnerability by advertising,

"Don’t let a pregnancy ruin your drug habit," and "If you use

drugs, get birth control, get $200 cash."

2)

CRACK LIMITS BIRTH CONTROL OPTIONS AND INCREASES HEALTH RISKS. CRACK

irresponsibly limits birth control options by compensating only for long-term,

provider-controlled methods: tubal ligation, Norplant, Depo Provera and IUDs.

These are all associated with substantial health risks, and it is unlikely that

women who are CRACK targets have access to the kind of health care which

provides adequate contraceptive counselling, screening for contraindications and

monitoring of side effects. Meanwhile, barrier methods such as the condom which

protect against HIV infection and other sexually transmitted diseases are not

compensated by CRACK.

3)

CRACK IMPEDES THE GOAL OF SUBSTANCE ABUSE TREATMENT. CRACK’s quick-fix approach

effectively gives up on treatment as a solution to addiction. So long as women

with addiction problems stop having children, nothing else seems to matter.

CRACK does not recognize addiction as a medical problem which responds to

appropriate treatment. This is part of a larger national trend of criminalizing

poor women of color with addiction problems, putting them in prison for ‘child

abuse’ during pregnancy, rather than offering them drug treatment programs.

4)

CRACK CAPITALIZES ON THE NOTION OF ‘CRACK BABIES’ AS WASTED LIVES. Acknowledging

that using drugs during pregnancy can harm an infant is very different from

CRACK’s message that women on drugs should not have babies at all. The notion of

‘crack babies’ as wasted human lives came about in the late 1980s when reporters

exaggerated the effect of crack cocaine on infants and preschoolers. They

emphasized the most alarming predictions of doctors and researchers that these

infants would experience learning disabilities, attention and behavior

disorders, and would have to be written off as a ‘lost generation’ or

‘biological underclass.’ Today, there is practically scientific consensus that

crack cocaine does no more damage to infants than cigarette smoking and does

less damage than heavy alcohol use. CRACK perpetuates the "crack

babies" myth, further stigmatizing children labeled as such and

contributing to misinformation among the public.

5)

OPPRESSION NEEDS TO BE ELIMINATED, NOT THE REPRODUCTIVE CAPACITY OF WOMEN. Women

with substance abuse problems need drug treatment, decent jobs, educational

opportunities, and mental health and childcare services. If they want birth

control, they should have access to high, quality voluntary birth control

services as part of respectful, comprehensive health care. It is the lack of all

these things and the denial of human dignity which exacerbate conditions of

poverty, racism, social status and gender discrimination. These conditions can

lead to women seeking out substances to medicate pain. Oppression needs to be

eliminated, not the reproductive capacity of women.

For

more information on the campaign against CRACK, contact CWPE at 

[email protected]

Betsy Hartmann

Director, Population and Development Program

Hampshire College

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