James Hughes appeared on Huff Post Live on July 26th to defend the work of the controversial Project Prevention led by its Director, Barbara Harris. Project Prevention focuses on paying largely poor, drug-addicted women to not have children by subsidizing them three-hundred dollars each when they secure some form of long-term birth control. Long term birth control methods include Intra-uterine Devices (IUDs), tubal ligation, sterilization, or for their few male clients, vasectomies.
Hughes expresses his support of this program in the following statement:
"Barbara Harris’ initiative is an ethical one insofar as it reduces the suffering of the people it convinces not to have children, of the potential children they might have had, and of society in general." ~ James Hughes, IEET.org, July 28th 2013i
Barbara Harris and Project Prevention have rightly been the target of much criticism over the past several years since their founding in 1997. Harris adopted four black children of a crack-addicted Los Angeles mother. Harris sees the problems of prenatal exposure to drugs through a very limited perspective that purposefully excludes the stark realities faced by the mothers. This is at its roots racist and bigoted, which in turn makes Harris' Project Prevention eugenicist in practice if not in nature.
Race and class are the central question at hand and underlie the problems in Project Prevention. Project Prevention, previously known as Children Requiring a Caring Kommunity (CRACK), is almost exclusively focused on people, addicted to crack cocaine, namely women and mothers. Crack is socially perceived as strictly a black problem, specifically a poor black problem, and in many ways it is. Crack is readily available to people in poor urban neighborhoods of color. Many people in these communities seek out drugs to self medicate through problems rooted in poverty.
Project Prevention pays three hundred dollars to each client they "convince" to receive long-term birth control or sterilization. There is a long process through which people must demonstrate their addiction through criminal records and provide evidence of a procedure prior to payout. Project Prevention chooses to focus specifically on illicit drugs and "criminal" behavior. They do not target the greatest contributors to prenatal diseases, namely alcohol and tobacco. They rely on criminal records to confirm addiction, blatantly ignoring the medical and psychological roots of addiction - which would indicate that their "clients" could be reformed. These conditions indicate their targets as poor people of color, those who are most targeted for drug offenses by the criminal justice system.
Drug enforcement in communities of color is much higher than in white or suburban/rural communities. Drug enforcement falls more on people of color than whites in even in suburban and rural communities, despite the fact that drug abuse is relatively the same throughout all sectors of society. Class plays a significant role in drug enforcement. The more power an individual has in society the lower penalties they are likely to face. This is especially true for those who benefit from wealth and white privilege that can pay more to hide their addictions and hide the domestic abuse and other problems that arises from it. Project Prevention is making an active decision to target people of color through disguising their motives with spurious narratives. They propagate right-wing narratives of the "crack-baby", the "drug-abusing welfare mom", and the common assumption that drug addicts are lazy, when often they suffer from some sort of trauma, mental or emotional distress.
Many Transhumanists will look at the work of Project Prevention with glowing reviews and praise as they choose to see what they want to see, largely ignoring the greater context. Free and available access to contraception, birth control, and abortion in all forms and on all levels including counseling should be a guaranteed human right under a reproductive justice framework. Many Transhumanists may also believe in such a framework, yet miss the conflict when it comes to Project Prevention. Project Prevention has very little to do with reproductive justice. Project Prevention is an example of an oppressive system hiding behind some spurious notion of saving children from exposure to illicit substances, presenting an excellent example of classic "white man's burden". Many Transhumanists will choose to see the function without the context.
One simply cannot separate context and political decisions of Project Prevention from their practice without also accepting their rationality and reason for those practices. They pay poor women who live under extremely impoverished conditions to get medical procedures tantamount to coercion. Project Prevention pays people to alter their bodies so they cannot have children. All accepted methods, especially those longer term methods, carry substantial risk. Hormone-based birth control carries a risk of blood clots leading to death, a risk that increases and dosage increases from pills to shots to implants receptively. IUDs can cause infections and perforations, a risk that would adversely affect those who already have a reduced access to quality care. All forms have various side effects and non-reversible forms of birth control or sterilization would likely prevent clients from ever considering having children in the future.
The racism and classism inherent in targeting illicit substance abusers, namely crack users, demonstrates the racial nature of this program. Barbara Harris and Project Prevention are products of a post-1980s era where racism, sexism, and classism are far more nuanced, where eugenics programs can hide behind liberal notions of charity.
This is part one of a multipart article to be published this week in response to comments two weeks ago, posted on IEET on July 28th. I encourage readers to hold comments until the final section is published later this week.
Wesley Strong studied sociology at Central Connecticut State University, where he graduated from in 2008 with honors. Wes was awarded the C. Wright Mills Award for Excellence in Public Discourse.
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