Pubdate: Mon, 02 Aug 1999
Source: New Haven Register (CT)
Copyright: 1999, New Haven Register
Author: Clarence Page, columnist for the Chicago Tribune


Coming soon, perhaps to a birth control clinic near you: a $200 bribe to get
yourself sterilized, either temporarily or permanently.

Of course, there is a catch. To qualify for this program, you must be a drug
addict, either actively or in recovery.

A cash-for-sterilization offer begun by an organization called Children
Requiring a Caring Kommunity, or CRACK, two years ago in Anaheim, Calif.,
has opened its first national expansion office in Chicago.

CRACK also has put up billboards in Florida and Minnesota with a toll-free
hot-line and this straightforward offer: "If you are addicted to drugs, get
birth control. Get $200 cash. Stop the cycle of addicted newborns now!"

This sort of thing can catch on. Other states may follow. There are many
people around who, like CRACK's founder Barbara Harris, want to do something
drastic about the thousands of babies born every year to drug-addicted parents.

There is nothing new about states offering birth control to low-income women
as part of their health coverage. But just because it is offered does not
mean people will take advantage of it, especially when their lives already
are disorganized by drug addiction. For them, Harris merely is adding $200
worth of added inducement.

Her offer is open to men and women, but so far, at least 57 women and zero
men have taken her up on it. Hey, guys, what's going on? Shy?

Of course, many people are just as troubled by the notion of paying
potential parents to get themselves sterilized as they are by the crack
babies such parents sometimes produce.

"Coercing women into sterilization by exploiting the condition of their
addiction is just plain wrong," one Chicago area Planned Parenthood official

Talk radio was even more agitated. The most common word I heard to describe
the program on one black-oriented talk radio station in Washington was

"White America realizes they are about to lose their majority," one African
American man observed, implying that conspiratorial efforts to thin out our
ranks are on the upswing.

Thank you, Louis Farrakhan.

As an African American, I have long had my antenna out for conspiracies
against the race. Heaven knows that American history is full of them. But my
racial antenna isn't twitching much at this CRACK program. Compared to the
damage crack cocaine has done disproportionately to black and Latino
Americans, Harris' bribe-for-no-babies plan pales.

Besides, if she is a racist, she's an exceptionally clever one. A white
Anaheim PTA parent, Harris is raising four black children she adopted as
crack-addicted babies from the same mother. She also has led a local
anti-discrimination program, according to her Web page.

Harris appears to be just one of many angry Americans who has held trembling
drug-addicted babies in her arms and become outraged enough to want to do
something about it.

Exploiting? If so, crack addiction is worse exploitation. Considering the
human misery that birth control avoids in such instances, 200 bucks sounds
like a bargain.

Of course, the drug user might just use the cash bribe to buy more drugs.
Harris realizes that, she said, but adds that at least they have a "choice,"
which is more than crack babies have.

She makes a good point. In fact, the biggest problem I have with Harris'
scheme is not that it does so much, but that it accomplishes so little.

Like community programs to "buy back" handguns, it is too modest to make
more than a dent in a very big social problem.

The best you can say is that it gets a message out, a message that brings
public attention back to an issue and a class of people too few of us want
to think much about.

Sadly, programs that bribe drug addicts to sterilize themselves signal a
form of social surrender, not unlike needle-exchange programs that provide
addicts with free needles to avoid HIV infections. In a society that has
been unwilling to pay for adequate drug treatment programs, it is reasoned,
at least we can offer clean needles.

Unfortunately, poor addicts who do seek drug treatment find themselves
facing waiting lists several months long, precisely because politicians have
been more eager to build jails than drug treatment facilities.

In that sense, Barbara Harris is a modern-day missionary. She may not offer
spiritual salvation, but at least she offers money. If government won't
spend enough time or money to deal with the roots of our national drug
addictions, frustrated citizens like Harris inevitably will come along to
deal with its least fortunate end products.

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Clarence Page, a syndicated columnist, writes for the Chicago Tribune, 435
N. Michigan Ave., Chicago 60611.

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