CRACK Uses Unethical Tactics to Stop Women with Substance Abuse Problems

Date Published: July 13, 2006

Based in California and founded by Barbara Harris, CRACK’s goal is to permanently or temporarily sterilize women with substance abuse problems. The name CRACK was chosen to stand for ‘Children Requiring a Caring Kommunity.’ Having failed to pass legislation in California which would have made long-term birth control mandatory for mothers with an addiction, Ms. Harris is now luring women to use these methods with monetary incentives of $200. As of September 1, 1999, 65 women received cash from Harris’ organization in exchange for their fertility. Of these, 46 women were permanently sterilized by tubal ligation. CRACK’s website, www.crack, updates these rising numbers. CRACK’s goal is to expand its program. It has opened a chapter in Chicago and is targeting Minnesota, Florida, Seattle and New England.



Reminiscent of eugenic sentiments of birth control advocate, Margaret Sanger, who sought “to assist the race toward elimination of the unfit,” CRACK seeks to diminish the number of “undesirables” from the overall population.1 Eugenics is based on prejudiced beliefs that people inherently belong to a superior or inferior race and class. It is also fueled by a fear that the ‘inferiors’ will breed excessively, thereby ‘threatening’ the proportion of ‘superiors’. Repressive repatriation laws, restrictive immigration quotas and coerced sterilizations formed a manifest part of the eugenics program practiced in the US. twenty-seven states enacted sterilization laws during the 1930’s, in order to outbreed ‘undesirables’. This denied a selection of people their fundamental right to procreate. It is estimated that some 60,000 Native Americans, African- Americans, the mentally and physically disabled, and the poor were sterilized as a result of these laws.2 International population control efforts led by the United States reveal similar accounts of sterilization abuse. By the 1970s, one third of all women of childbearing age in Puerto Rico were sterilized through US government- sponsored programs.3

Now, at the end of this century, we have private, monetary incentive programs offering young, educated, and privileged women 2,500 to 50,000 dollars to ‘donate’ their eggs towards creating a child, while a program such as CRACK offers poor women with substance abuse problems $200 not to have a child.4 Incentives, such as those offered by CRACK, by their very nature have more to do with coercion than choice. Poor women with substance abuse problems are not likely to be able to make an informed decision with regard to their reproductive capacity, if offered cash as an incentive. CRACK takes advantage of this vulnerability, by advertising, ‘Don’t Let a Pregnancy Ruin Your Drug Habit,’ and ‘If You Use Drugs, Get Birth Control, Get $200 Cash.’ CRACK’s disregard for the women it targets is evidenced in Barbara Harris’ statement: “We don’t allow dogs to breed. We spay them. We neuter them. We try to keep them from having unwanted puppies, and yet these women are literally having litters of children.”5 CRACK denies poor, marginalized women with substance abuse problems their procreative ability, and this is a human rights violation.


CRACK irresponsibly limits birth control options by compensating woman only for long-term, provider-controlled methods: tubal ligation, Norplant, Depo-Provera and IUDs. Barrier methods and methods which protect against HIV infection and other sexually transmitted diseases are not offered.


The drug-addicted women that CRACK targets are likely to already suffer from poor health conditions, and inadequate access to health care. However, CRACK’s high-tech, birth control ‘options’ require health care screening for contraindications and monitoring for side effects. CRACK may actually increase a woman’s risk of contracting HIV or other STDs, since it exclusively advances birth control methods which provide no protection against these infections. By promoting Norplant and Depo-Provera, CRACK encourages women on drugs to put even more chemicals, which are associated with strong side effects, into their bodies. A woman’s health, which is already compromised by drugs and poverty, is put at further risk by these chemical contraceptives.


CRACK’s quick- fix approach effectively gives up on treatment as a solution to addiction. So long as women with addiction problems stop having children, nothing else seems to matter. It does not recognize addiction as a medical problem which responds to appropriate treatment. In a response to CWPE’s letter of protest sent to Barbara Harris, Lin Alvarez, an advocate for CRACK, wrote, “We are deeply concerned about the inhumane acts certain women willingly perform on newborn babies,” (emphasis added) and portrays this as ‘child abuse’, criminalizing women with addiction. CRACK’s advertisement, ‘Don’t Let a Pregnancy Ruin Your Drug Habit,’ goes so far as to maliciously encourage addiction.


Recognizing that using drugs while pregnant can harm an infant is very different from CRACK’s message that women on drugs should not have babies. The notion of ‘crack babies’ as wasted human lives came about in the late 1980s when news reporters exaggerated the effect of crack cocaine on infants and preschoolers. They emphasized the most alarming predictions of doctors and researchers that infants of women who used crack cocaine would experience learning disabilities, attention and behavior disorders, and would have to be written off as a ‘lost generation’ or a ‘biological underclass’. Today, there is practically scientific consensus that crack cocaine does no more damage to infants than heavy cigarette smoking and does less damage than heavy alcohol use. CRACK perpetuates the ‘crack babies’ myth, further stigmatizing the children labeled as such and contributing to misinformation among the public.


Women with substance abuse problems need drug treatment, decent jobs, educational opportunities, mental health services, and childcare services. It is the lack of these services and the denial of human dignity, which exacerbate conditions of poverty, racism, social status and gender discrimination. These conditions can lead to women seeking out substances to medicate pain. Therefore, it is oppression that needs to be eliminated, not the reproductive capacity of women.

This fact sheet was prepared by: Committee on Women, Population and the Environment Population and Development, CLPP Hampshire College Amherst, MA 01002-5001, e-mail:, phone: (413) 559-5506; fax: (413) 559-6045

1 Sanger, Margaret, The Birth Control Review, Vol. 3, No. 2, p. 11.
2 ‘Forced Sterilizations: Vermont Laws Spark Controversy,’ Boston Globe, August 15, 1999.
3 Sterilization abuses in Puerto Rico are documented in the film, La Operacion.
4 An advertisement in the Columbia Daily Spectator offered 50,000 dollars to a woman with a height of at least five feet seven inches and SAT scores of at least 1300. (quoted in: ‘Eggs for Sale,’ by Rebecca Mead, The New Yorker, August 9, 1999)
5 quoted in ‘Mothers Paid to Stop Having Children,’ Marie Claire, December, 1998.
6 Norplant: Effective 24 hours after insertion and lasts for 5 years. Norplant has been associated with prolonged or irregular menstrual bleeding, severe headaches, weight change, migration of the implant in muscle, excess scarring around the area of insertion, difficulties with insertion and removal (including infection) and even nerve damage. Depo-Provera: Each injection prevents pregnancy for 3-6 months and cannot be reversed. Side effects include hair loss, delayed return to fertility, nausea, osteoporosis, depression, and increased risk of cervical and breast cancer. This method also does not protect against HIV infection or STD’s and may make women more susceptible. Intrauterine Device (‘IUD’): This method may increase a woman’s risk of getting pelvic inflammatory disease. Tubal Ligation: Not only does it prevent a woman from having children while she is using drugs, but it would forever preclude her from having children in the future. Vasectomy: CRACK’s solution for the male, this method does not prevent against HIV infection or STD’s. To date, no man has received the cash incentive from CRACK.