The Huge Controversy Behind Project Prevention

By Nolan Moore on Friday, June 5, 2015
Holding an IUD birth control device in hand
“How vastly important is it, then, for mothers to have a higher regard for their duties—to feel deeply the immense responsibilities that rest upon them! It is through their ministrations that the world grows worse or better.” —Timothy Shay Arthur, “The Mother’s Rule” (1856)

In A Nutshell

After Barbara Harris adopted four children abandoned by the same drug-addicted woman, she decided to found Project Prevention. This nonprofit actually pays addicts to use long-term birth control or undergo sterilization. As you might expect, it’s a pretty controversial organization.

The Whole Bushel

You can pick your friends, as the old saying goes, but not your family. That’s bad news for kids with drug-addicted parents, kids like Destiny Harris. Her biological mom was a junkie, so when Destiny was born, she tested positive for PCP, crack, and heroin. Fortunately for this little girl, she was adopted by a woman named Barbara Harris . . . and so were her two brothers and little sister.

Despite her drug-using ways, Destiny’s birth mom kept having and abandoning babies. It was so bad that one of Destiny’s brothers experienced severe heroin withdrawals for weeks after his birth. Angered by this woman’s irresponsibility, Barbara Harris began worrying about other children with smackhead parents. Not every child was lucky enough to end up in a loving, caring home like Destiny. That’s when Barbara decided to do something radical.

Inspired to save these kids from a horrible fate, Harris founded a non-profit called C.R.A.C.K. (Children Requiring a Caring Kommunity), but today it’s best known as Project Prevention. Founded in 1997, Project Prevention has paid over 4,000 women $300 apiece to undergo tubal ligations or receive contraceptive implants. According to Barbara’s way of thinking, that’s thousands of kids who’ll never have to grow up in crack houses, scrounge in the streets, or suffer from years of abuse.

Over the years, Project Prevention has widened its horizons, and since 1997, it’s begun paying men to undergo vasectomies and has even opened up headquarters in the UK. Of course, not everyone agrees with Barbara’s methods. Quite a few people draw parallels between Project Prevention and the eugenics movement. Others claim she’s taking advantage of women when they’re incredibly vulnerable.

However, as RadioLab producer Pat Walters pointed out, the most interesting argument against Project Prevention is Destiny Harris, Barbara’s adopted daughter. While she was born to a drug-addicted mother, today she’s a college graduate with a loving family and a daughter of her own. But what if Barbara Harris had paid to sterilize Destiny’s mom? How many potentially happy lives has Project Prevention, well, prevented?

Of course, if you asked Destiny herself, she’d tell you in no uncertain terms that she supports Barbara’s program. In fact, if she had the choice between possibly growing up in a world full of drugs and abuse or never being born at all, she’d go with the second option. “I wouldn’t want to put it up to chance,” she says, “because what kind of life is that?”

Show Me The Proof

Project Prevention
RadioLab: What If There Was No Destiny?
VICE: An Interview with the Woman Who Pays Drug Addicts to Get Sterilized
TIME: Why Drug Addicts Are Getting Sterilized for Cash