CONCORD, N.C. (WLOS) — A North Carolina woman is working to reduce the number of babies born addicted to drugs by offering long-term birth control or sterilization to addicts. The program, called Project Prevention, was founded by Barbara Harris more than 20 years ago.
Harris said she started the program after she adopted four children, all born to the same mother who was using drugs while pregnant.
“We got a phone call saying she (the addicted mother) had had her eighth boy and do we want to keep him? We wanted them all to keep them together,” Harris said of the children.
During the adoption process, Harris came up with the idea for Project Prevention. Over the years, she has paid more than 7,000 addicts $300 each to get on long-term birth control or get sterilized.
“To me, it’s common sense, prefect sense. Someone who is strung out on drugs and alcohol shouldn’t conceive a child,” Harris said.
Harris has driven around the country in her RV, putting up signs and speaking to those who are addicted to drugs.
“They call our 800 number and give us an address. We send them the paperwork, and they go to their doctor to decide which birth control is best for them. They then mail back the paperwork, and we verify it. We then send them money. It’s a very simple process,” Harris said.
She hopes by adding the money as an incentive, it will help lower the rate of babies born to mothers who are addicted.
Nicki Hickerson met Harris after her battle with addiction. Hickerson said she started drinking alcohol when she was about 10-11 years old. From there, the addiction progressed. When she lost custody of her first daughter, her addiction deepened.
“I started doing cocaine again and heroin, speed balls and eventually meth and just went crazy with it until a couple year ago. I went to jail and had gotten out about three weeks later. And in those three weeks I had gotten pregnant. Hickerson, who opted for tubal ligation, is now a mother of three and is on Suboxone.
“I don’t plan on relapsing, and I pray to God that I don’t. But if I were to and then get pregnant again, I could never forgive myself,” Hickerson said.
She said the process and paperwork took a while to send in and complete. It was enough time for her to truly think about her decision.
“This was my choice, and no one forced me to do it. Obviously, I got the incentive to do it, which was the money besides not having to worry about having more babies if i were to relapse,” Hickerson said. “You’re not going to wait a month if you’re in heavy addiction. I know that’s one of the opposing views, you shouldn’t be taking or offering people in a weak mindset money to doing something so long term, but no addict I know that’s in active addiction is going to just spend two months or whatever it is to get the whole process done because you have to see a doctor. You have to get the major surgery done.”
Treatment rather than sterilization
Marie Gannon is a behavior health director at Project CARA, a MAHEC program that helps pregnant women who are struggling with substance abuse disorders. Gannon, who has spent years being an advocate for pregnant women who seek recovery, said she had a client regret her decision to get sterilized.
“When she was in active addiction, she took the money and got her tubes tied when she was just desperate for money to get her next fix. In a way, she didn’t have to sell her body to a John on the street. It was a huge thing to work through, and she had so much guilt and grief when she made this decision when she wasn’t thinking about long-term consequences,” Gannon said.
Instead of paying money for birth control or sterilization, Gannon believes offering compassion in a safe, non-judgemental environment and finding the underlying root of the problem is the best way to stop the cycle of trauma and addiction.
“That’s absolutely what we should be offering — treatment rather than sterilization. I 100 percent support if people want to get tubals or long activating contraception, if that is what they want and really thought through it. But more than anything, offer them informed compassionate, loving treatment to help them choose a different path for their future,” Gannon said.
Despite the critizism, Harris continues to believe in what she’s doing and said she has received letters from women thanking her for helping them make responsible choices. She said the women who chose sterilization have had multiple kids already.
“We do have people that say, ‘Oh, how can you pay people for sterilization.’ We need people to understand all of our women going through the program have had three-13 children, no less. People need to realize there is nothing good that comes to a women who gives birth eight times to a have her children taken away from her. If they do get clean and can’t have any more kids, is that a worse tragedy than if they didn’t and had five more kids that they damaged? It just depends on where your heart is, and my heart lies with the children,” Harris said.
To learn more about Project Cara, click here
To learn more about Project Prevention, click here