This Woman Pays Drug Users Not To Have Kids (HBO)


Since the 1970s, at least 45 states have prosecuted women
for using drugs while pregnant. Alabama has one of the country’s
strictest laws on the subject. It’s been used to prosecute women
even before they’ve given birth. And one woman in Alabama is on a crusade to keep drug users from
getting pregnant in the first place. — Everyone knows a drug addict, unfortunately. So if you know anybody who’s
using drugs that could get pregnant, we’ll pay them to use birth control. That’s what we do. — Barbara Harris thinks drug addicts
shouldn’t have children, and she’s using cash incentives
to make sure they don’t. — Nothing positive comes to a drug addict who gives birth to eight children
that are taken away from her. This is a win-win for everybody. — Her non-profit, Project Prevention, pays addicts and alcoholics $300 if they get sterilized or put on long-term birth control. — It says no left turn here. — But you’re turning right. — I’m going this way— Oh, I thought she wanted me to go that way. — Over the last 20 years, she’s travelled the country in her branded RV and paid 7,000 people to give up their fertility. Most of them are women. She launched Project Prevention
after she adopted four babies in four years, each born to the same drug-addicted mother. — You’ve been doing this work for nearly 20 years now. How have things changed? — When I first started, the drug of choice was crack. Now it’s switched, and now it’s meth and heroin, and a lot of prescription drugs. Nothing else has changed— drugs are still just as bad, women are still having numerous children, foster care’s still overloaded, hundreds of thousands of kids
are still in need of homes. — The birth control she offers isn’t condoms and pills, it’s IUDs, implants and sterilization. Those who choose sterilization
get a lump sum after the procedure. Those who go for less permanent options
are paid in smaller installments. Thousands of women have taken her money
in exchange for permanent sterilization, entirely legally. Project Prevention itself doesn’t sterilize addicts, just pays them— Harris leaves the procedures to doctors. She gets anything up to half a million dollars
in private donations every year. — I think if there’s anything that
everybody can agree on— the left, the right, and everybody in the middle— it’s that it’s not okay to abuse children. — You think having a child when you’re
drinking and taking drugs is child abuse? — Yes. They say don’t even drink caffeine
when you’re pregnant, so I don’t know how meth could be good for a baby. — The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates 4.7 percent of women aged 15 to 44
use drugs while they’re pregnant. And more than 32 percent of
all children placed in foster care were removed from home because
of their parents’ drug or alcohol use. Harris made the nine-hour trip to Mobile when she heard about a local woman who had
been imprisoned for taking heroin while pregnant. She doesn’t want drug users sent to jail, she wants them on long-term
or permanent birth control. — How is doing what you do, without looking at the social causes
that create a situation like this, how is that any more than
a Band-Aid on a huge problem? — It’s not a Band-Aid on the problem. We’re dealing with— we’re solving the problem we’re dealing with. We’re preventing women who are strung out
on drugs and alcohol from conceiving a child. — Harris targets areas where
she thinks addicts will congregate: like cheap motels, liquor stores and methadone clinics. It’s not even 11 a.m. when she meets
33-year-old Alesia Robinson, and Robinson already seems high. She has seven children, and used during all her pregnancies. — Can you still get pregnant? — Yes I can. — So, have you thought about
getting on birth control? — Yeah. — Well then, you need to do it.
— Let’s do it right now. — We don’t do the birth control, but you need to do it, okay? Okay, because that’s gonna prevent
the next heartache, right? One less worry. — One less worry. — It doesn’t bother you that,
by virtue of what you do, you’re targeting a specific section of the population? — No, no. — It doesn’t bother you at all.
— No. — A disproportionate number of people
who use your services aren’t white. How do you respond to the claim
that you are socially engineering? — For somebody to hear about what we do and
think we’re only paying people of color is very racist, because they’re assuming that all drug addicts
are people of color and that is not true. — Is it really informed consent
when they’re in a chaotic situation? — That’s between them and the doctor. He has to decide whether he thinks
they’re able to get birth control. Nobody has a right to force feed any child drugs and then deliver a child that may die
or may have lifelong illnesses— nobody has that right. — I think it was some kinda flyer or something, and all I remember is the number was 1-888-30-CRACK. — A memorable number. — Yeah. For someone, yeah, who is an addict, yeah. You can’t forget it. — Tina Boyd is a Project Prevention client
who was sterilized eight years ago. She’s been clean since 2012, but most of her life has been spent using drugs— including when she was pregnant with her sons, Joey and Michael. — Do you think that your drug use
has affected them long-term? — I know it has, it’s affected Joey. — In what way? — He has a receptive and cognitive delay. He doesn’t understand a lot. They said that he’ll probably have to
live with someone the rest of his life. Which, hopefully, will be me. I love you, that’s my baby. — I love you too. — After Joey was born, Boyd took Harris’s cash in exchange for getting an IUD, but then Boyd decided to have another baby. After Michael was born addicted, she went back to Project Prevention
to get paid for sterilization. — Do you ever have any second thoughts? — No. — Not even when your youngest son
says he wants a little sister? — Could you have it, and then I’ll give it back to you? I can’t. I can’t, I can’t, I can’t, I can’t. — Just listening to you,
it makes me feel like you have… you… don’t believe in yourself. — I believe in my limitations. God forbid, if you guys had bought drugs with you… I can’t say that I wouldn’t have sniffed ‘em out. And I don’t want to live like that. I don’t want my children to have to live like that. — Would you like the ability to
be able to do things differently? — Oh God, yes. Are you kidding? Yes, everything. Everything. Everything. — Barbara Harris’s greatest impact is in perpetuating really destructive and cruel myths about
pregnant women and their children. — Lynn Paltrow heads up the
National Advocates for Pregnant Women. She’s been a critic of Barbara Harris’s
work for over 20 years: — You’re assuming every woman that’s
a drug addict is looking for treatment, they’re not! — Paltrow works with Mary Barr, a social justice advocate, former addict, and mother who used drugs when
she was pregnant with both her kids. — I have two children who are incredibly healthy, were born healthy. They are 26 and 25, and they’re
very, amazingly, successful. — If you had met Barbara during
the height of your addiction, what would you thought of that offer? — I would have taken it, because $300, you know, and all at once— that meant, for me, three nights of sleeping indoors. — Paltrow says it’s the world
the children of addicts are born into that leaves them so disadvantaged, not the substances they were exposed to. — When you talk to the medical researchers, the great news is that none of the criminalized drugs cause unique, permanent, terrible damage. Three percent of all women give birth to babies
that have what are called serious birth defects. None of that has anything to do
with the criminalized drugs. — Do you think Barbara Harris has quite
a static view of addicts and addiction, that once you’re an addict you’re always an addict? — Yes, and she’s not the only one. When somebody was telling me
I couldn’t be a productive mother, and that my children would be born,
you know, disabled or something, I mean, wow. I believed that. — The biggest threats to our children have nothing to do with what any
individual woman did or didn’t do. It has to do with poverty,
the lack of access to health care. It has to do with the stress created by racism. — Do you not think that addicts might
deserve a second chance and that, by promoting sterilization,
you’re denying them a second chance? — Well, we don’t promote sterilization. That’s their choice. They got strung out, they decided they wanted $300 to sterilize themselves. And if it’s a decision they regret, it was a decision they made— just like prostituting and ending up with AIDS. Because I watched how my children suffered and
had to withdraw from drugs when they were born. So no, I wasn’t thinking about
the women—“these poor women.” I was thinking, “My poor children.” — This is all very straightforward for you, isn’t it? It’s very simple. — To me, it is. Nobody who disagrees with what we’re doing has yet to give me a logical, rational reason why a drug addict or an alcoholic should get pregnant. And I always say to them, if you believe that strongly that these
women should keep conceiving children, then you should step up and adopt the next one born. But most of the people who have a
problem with what we’re doing, they would never consider
adopting one of these children. So if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.

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