The politics of cause and effect: In defense of Project Prevention

This essay is a work in progress. For now I set out only my thesis and introduction. It is part of a seven-part series on race relations, and is being considered for submissions. Comments most welcome.

The politics of cause and effect: In defense of Project Prevention

Project Prevention encourages drug-addicted mothers to undergo sterilization or semi-permanent birth control. For such women, the procedures or drugs are paid for by the organization, which also offers a $200 incentive. The group has been the center of a considerable amount of controversy; it is seen as having a disproportionate effect on black women, as interfering with the right to procreation, and because the cash incentives are presumably spent to purchase more drugs.

In this paper, I will discuss how such criticism is insufficient to overcome the compelling reasons for offering such a program. Although the cause of the higher rates of drug addiction is at least partially historical racism, and the effect is eugenic-like in fact, the program itself has compelling positive effects on the individual and on the community as a whole.

To begin, this issue is distinct from the differing sentencing requirements that have a racially disproportionate effect, namely because the organization does not distinguish between various drugs and alcohol.

Second, the idea that it is motivated by racially discriminatory motives is belief by the history of the organization. It was begun by Barbara Harris, a woman in a mixed-race marriage who adopted an eight month old girl. [1] Although the symptoms of the child’s exposure to crack were gone by then, the child’s mother soon gave birth to another child, who Ms. Harris adopted. Watching her new son suffer compelled her to action, as did the birth and adoption of two more siblings. Harris soon learned that she could not press charges against the mother, or in any way prevent her from repeating her behavior once again; an attempt to change the law also failed. Harris’ life offers both a compelling example of why such a program is needed, and evidence that it was not motivated by racial animus.


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