by: william lee adams
When Joanne Chavarria’s grandmother died last summer, she coped by turning to the bottle. “I started to drink. And then I started to smoke some weed. And then I started doing meth,” says the 32-year old from Merced, California. Chavarria, who began abusing drugs at the age of 12, was eight months pregnant at the time. Last August, she gave birth to drug-addicted twins, and California’s Child Protective Services took the infants, and Chavarria’s three other children, into custody.
As with other addicts, the road to recovery for Chavarria began with counseling and a drug rehabilitation program. Less orthodox, however, was her decision to undergo a tubal ligation. “Addicts in my situation need to get their tubes tied,” she says. “When you stop having kids it makes you think about what else you can do in life.”
Chavarria had the procedure done after meeting with Project Prevention, a North Carolina-based charity that gives drug addicts $300 if they go on long-term birth control or undergo sterilization. The aim of Barbara Harris, 57, the organization’s controversial founder, is to prevent addicts from having children they can’t care for and reduce the number of babies born exposed to drugs. “Even if their babies are fortunate enough not to have mental or physical disabilities, they’re placed in the foster care system and moved from home to home,” she says. “What makes a woman’s right to procreate more important than the right of a child to have a normal life?” It’s an issue near and dear to Harris: she has adopted four children born to the same crack-addicted woman in Los Angeles.
Established in 1997, Project Prevention has so far worked with 3,371 addicts in the U.S. Of those, 1,253 have opted for tubal ligations or vasectomies. After getting in touch with the organization by calling its toll free hotline (888-30-CRACK), prospective participants must mail in arrest records or official letters from social workers to confirm they have drug problems. Those opting for IUDs or surgical implants receive $100 when the device is inserted and $100 more six months and a year later if the device is still in use. Harris depends on donations to keep the operation going, and word-of-mouth among addicts to find clients. But she also advertises her program by driving around the U.S. in a 30-foot motor home plastered with photos of a dead infant, a razor blade, a line of crack and a pacifier, along with the message: “Some things just don’t belong together.”
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