A tough approach to drug-using mothers

The LA Times paints a pretty sympathetic picture of Project Prevention, a program that pays addicticted women to get themselves sterilized or use long term birth control. It closes with the following:

Project Prevention makes sense to me. Although a few thousand IUDs might not make a dent in the problem, the bluntness of the gesture turns up the volume.

And it brings drug-using moms in on the dialogue. Thank you for helping me do the first responsible thing I’ve ever done with my addiction, one mother wrote in a letter to Harris, who solicits a life story from every client.

“They’re not bad women,” Harris told me. “They don’t set out to have babies that are taken away. They feel regret about what they’ve done.”

She’s right. Demonizing the mothers doesn’t help. They need counseling, not just contraception. Many were victims of childhood trauma and are prisoners of addiction now.

Some hope giving birth will redeem and stabilize their lives. “It’s one of the few things they can do that they have control over,” said retired social worker Glynis Morrow. “Then the realities of parenting hit. And they feel like failures. And that pain drives them back to drugs.”

And we’re right back where we started from.

So we can talk about women’s rights or about the privilege of procreation. However we cast the conversation, there is one truth we can’t avoid: We are helping mothers heal when we keep unwanted children from being born.

It doesn’t “make a dent in the problem” but it “turns up the volume.” Turns up the volume of what exactly? Bringing them “in on the dialogue”? Who’s dialogue? “Helping mothers heal” by encouraging sterilization?

This is pessimism and stigma dressed up as compassion. It only reinforces the notion that addicts are hopeless, irresponsible social parasites. Indeed, the founder has previously said, “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 …” She also previously distributed flyers saying, “Don’t let getting pregnant get in the way of your drug habit.”

I’m all for preventing unwanted pregnancies, but context matters. If this group was also lobbying for greater access to treatment for these women, that might be another matter. They give lip service to the welfare of the women but little more. Their statistics report only on the social costs of the addicts and offers no references to anything the program has done to improve the circumstances of the women–even activities like advocacy and treatment referrals which would cost nothing and be easy to track. One can only assume that they don’t engage in these kinds of activities, collect data and report on it because they and their supporters don’t care.