Project Prevention: Long-Term Birth control for Drug-addicted parents

Posted: June 28, 2011 in Feminism
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

I recently did some research into a group called Project Prevention – Here’s my take on it: (warning: long read – and very academic)

Project Prevention was founded by Barbara Harris in 1992. It is California-based and has a 15 person board of directors. (Board of Directors: Project Prevention ) Harris founded this organization after a personal experience adopting children from drug-addicted Los Angeles parents. Harris was struck by the difficulty of raising drug-addicted children, and thus founded Project Prevention. (FAQ: Projection Prevention) The programs main objective is to provide cash incentives (to the tune of $300) to drug / alcohol addicted potential parents to obtain long-term/permanent birth control.  Harris contends that by providing this service, Project Prevention is lowering the number of children in foster care, reducing birth defects in children born to drug-addicted parents, and preventing suffering of children who would be born in very dangerous environments. (Project Prevention) I am opposed to this kind of organization. I will be looking at Project Prevention on multiple fronts from the perspective of several different feminist viewpoints. I hope to show that this organization is harmful, rather than helpful to the plights of the drug addicted and their potential children.

Marxism Feminism (MF): Heidi Hartmann advocates for a vision of feminism that incorporates class struggle as well as patriarchal struggle. (Hartmann, 1981) One of the tenets of Marxist Feminism deals with the idea of praxis ­– applied thought and action mixed to create labor. The viability of someone to produce something worthwhile to society is important to a MF. The first question to come up when considering Project Prevention is what type of praxis the clients are engaging in. Reproduction is viewed as a form of labor to some MFs, and as such it would seem that reproductive labor is indeed a form of praxis (Reed, 1970). It would seem then that by providing this form of birth control to potentially unstable, irrational drug addicts, Project Prevention is in some way coercing clients to give up their viability to engage in the praxis of reproduction. Most people would agree that children born into drug-addicted lifestyles are going to have a hard time. However, A MF may argue that class affects living conditions of children too, oftentimes just as severely as these tough lifestyles do. It is plausible that drug addictions are a symptom of class inequalities.

These class inequalities coupled with poverty could pose the greatest hurdle to a positive living environment for children, and it seems unethical to deny someone their right to reproductive praxis when the real problem is the class that the parents are in. This class, according to an MF, often pushes people into forced praxis which can push them away from pursuing their true natural interests. Coupled with drug addiction and the cash incentive, it is not hard to understand why an individual would choose to be a client of Project Prevention’s. As the direct effect of using the services is a smaller population of children in the environment, a MF could argue that this type of program could be used as a form of class control. I would think a MF would advocate a program of drug rehab over Project Prevention. They may also be more comfortable with Project Prevention if it offered short-term birth control (such as condoms or pills) instead of long-term / permanent measures. This short-tem route would still help reduce potentially painful lives for children, but would not restrict the client’s ability to engage in praxis of reproduction if he/she so chooses at a later date.

MF is also interested in the interdependence of society (Hartmann, 1981). In this case, there is a very real strain on society to deal with children of drug-addicted parents. Whereas Barbara Harris experienced this first hand and decided to found Project Prevention, a MF might instead view a drug-addicted person as a symptom of societal class inequality. The solution then is different – It isn’t working with the individual as much as it is looking at how to eliminate that inequality within a whole society. One possible insight is that most children in foster care from drug-addicted parents also come from extremely economically disadvantaged families. So it is a chicken or the egg argument: did poverty come first, or did the drugs and the resulting addictions? It’s hard to tell, but a MF is pretty sure that these impoverished living conditions are maintained by a sense of capitalism. Abolish capitalism, and it is possible that you won’t even need a program like Project Prevention, as if we remove the class structure, drug addiction isn’t as likely due to better satisfaction with life, as well as a greater focus on praxis, not just survival.

Liberal Feminism (LF): Susan Okin talks about how the family is critical to life opportunity. These tenets of equal opportunity have been spread thin due to decades of neglect of the poor coupled with Reaganism (Okin, 1987). It would seem that the idea of family, which would require reproduction, is a part of the LF’s viewpoint on life. Programs like Project Prevention interfere with the choice to have a family if the woman or man so chooses at a future date. In a similar vein, paramount to a LF’s view is the idea of rationality and individuality. This idea is almost Kantian in approach – treating human beings as rational ends and not means.  In the case of a drug addict receiving cash incentives a LF might argue that the person’s capacity for rationality is diminished due to the effects of the addiction(s). It would seem that offering the cash incentive, just like with Marxism Feminism, could be viewed as a form of coercion.  Furthermore, Project Prevention is sold as being good for society – reducing the load on the foster care system and reducing the strain on economic resources from hospitals and welfare systems. While there is a small bit on their mission statement about advocating drug rehab and education for the patients, it is in no way the focus of the organization. A LF could contend then that this program is unethical because it is putting the interests of creating a “healthy” society above the individual capacity of the clients to reproduce. If we really are rational ends, and not means, then we rationally have the choice to lose that capacity for rationality temporarily (via getting involved in drugs).  I cannot see a LF advocating a decision to make often permanent birth control choices while in that state of mind; but I can see a LF supporting drug rehab and counseling. Perhaps then when the client is in a rational state of mind, sans cash incentive, introduction of the idea of permanent birth control could be introduced.

The Racist Perspective: Project Prevention has been criticized for having some tendencies of targeting minorities with its outreach. Critics hold that this seems to be somewhat racist. Project Prevention addresses this and maintains that they target a behavior, not a racial demographic (FAQ: Projection Prevention). I agree with Project Prevention on this point. The reality is that while it is true that all people can become addicted to drugs, it is more likely in areas of lower economic potential and poverty. It is true that many of these areas in the U.S. are inhabited by specific racial groups. To say then that a program operating in these areas is racist because they primarily work with a specific demographic is ignorant. If the population you serve primarily identifies with a specific demographic, then you can expect to have a very high percentage of clients from that demographic. So, Project Prevention’s efforts are not racist, they are just circumstantial to the demographic.

My Views: I think that Project Prevention is a band-aid project. It is very interesting that the name has “prevention” in the title, because I believe it to be a form of intervention. Project Prevention views eliminating a potential pregnancy as preventing a social problem (Objectives: Project Prevention).  I contend that this isn’t true prevention at all. The organization is dealing with people who are already addicted to drugs. These people may have become addicted to drugs for a myriad of different reasons, but they are definitely in that risky demographic. When addressing a social blight such as drug addiction, it is important to look at it from many different angles and, true enough, child care and reproduction for these people is an important social concern.  The danger with the route that Project Prevention has taken is that it is quite narrow. The options of the patient are limited, even more so with the availability of cash incentives. The cash incentive really bothers me. I cannot imagine someone in dire straits who is addicted to virulent narcotics being able to rationally turn down $300. It seems an arguable position that the client could potentially not have the choice to turn it down.  There seems to be very little education attached to Project Prevention. Drug rehab is offered as an option, but again it is a form of intervention. The primary contact with the addicts is that Harris writes letters of encouragement to a lot of the clients (FAQ: Projection Prevention). This feels trite to me, and helps illustrate that Project Prevention doesn’t really seem to have the best interests of the client in mind. I feel that true prevention of this social blight can really only start to come about with social education on the subject of drug addiction.

The bottom line is that people will be having sex irrespective of their life choices or economic class. Sex without birth control, and sometimes even with it, has a high chance of producing children.  Sex education can help facilitate this reality. An unwanted pregnancy can be devastating to a family in economic and social terms. Education showing proper and regular birth control seems like a safe bet to hedge against a societal need to curb unwanted pregnancies. It is in no way a complete fix, but education coupled with resources to obtain birth control are some of the best strategies we have to work with people having sex – because again, people will regardless of the presence of birth control. I feel that Project Prevention is an unhappy marriage between resources helping drug addicts and resources providing birth control. I am ok with long-term birth control options – many people (of all walks of life) have chosen to become voluntarily sterile. I like that the option of these operations is there. I feel though that targeting potentially irrational drug users with this option seems really agenda driven, and doesn’t have the best interests of the patient in mind at all. At best, it seems that the interests of the potential child are at stake, but at worst it seems that eugenic interests are being propagated.

The message from Project Prevention seems clear after a bit of thought: people who are drug users shouldn’t being having children. This is troublesome for many reasons, but mainly it seems problematic because Project Prevention seems to feel that it is able to make that decision for people. I am curious under what authority Project Prevention believes it has the right to tell disadvantaged and addicted people that they are not viable parents and that they should sterilize themselves or at least go with long-term, not necessarily permanent, birth control. I do believe that class inequality plays an incredible role in people’s available life choices and opportunities, and it seems pretty devastating to someone to be told they should not be able to have children because of their circumstances and decisions. Interestingly enough, after perusing the Project Prevention website, I didn’t find a single thing advocating abortion as an available resource to the drug-addicted clients.  The final point is that it is possible that these people that Project Prevention targets may actually want to have children. It is a slippery slope for Project Prevention to decide that those people can’t make that choice because of their narcotic problems. That kind of decision seems to really infringe on their rights, and so in this vein I find Project Prevention to be unethical


Board of Directors: Project Prevention . (n.d.). Retrieved from Project Prevention:

FAQ: Projection Prevention. (n.d.). Retrieved from Project Prevention:

Hartmann, H. (1981). The Unhappy Marriage of marxism and Feminism: Towards a More Progressive Union. Feminist Philosophies , 425-433.

Objectives: Project Prevention. (n.d.). Retrieved from Project Prevention:

Okin, S. M. (1987). Justice, Gender, and the Family. Feminist Philosophies , 315-316.

Project Prevention. (n.d.). Retrieved from Project Prevention:

Reed, E. (1970). Women: Caste, Class, or Oppressed Sex? Feminist Philosophies , 415-424.

  1. Dave Rave says:


    We really love you article at Could we republish it – could you get in touch on

    Best wishes

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