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
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.
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.
its fact sheet on CRACK, the Committee on Women, Population and the Environment
lays out the reasons why we should strongly oppose the organization:
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
Director, Population and Development Program