Jewish World Review Nov. 1, 1999 /21 Mar-Cheshvan, 5760
Crack and Cant
CHICAGO—There is a controversy here because Barbara Harris in
Anaheim, Calif., got tired of her telephone ringing. She says, "I just couldn't
believe that my phone would ring every year and they would tell me she
had had another baby."
In a span of three years Harris, 47, and her husband adopted the four
youngest of eight babies born to one drug-addicted woman. Harris's
efforts to prevent the births of drug-addicted babies have provoked
charges that she is a genocidal racist. She is an unlikely target: She is white;
her husband and the adopted babies are African American.
From Harris's exasperation was born CRACK--Children Requiring A
Caring Kommunity, which pays $200 cash to addicts who acquire
long-term contraception or get sterilized. The Chicago CRACK program,
founded here by social worker Lyle Keller, has provoked furies from the
indignation industry in Chicago's black community. Some critics say the
acronym reinforces negative stereotypes. Others object to the location of
the two billboards that notify the public of CRACK's offer.
One billboard is in a Hispanic neighborhood within a few blocks of two
drug treatment centers and a 300-bed halfway house for drug addicts. A
second, larger billboard is in a black neighborhood. Some people interpret
these locations as racial or ethnic insults.
Is CRACK "targeting people of color"? No, the targets are addicts.
Putting billboards in posh suburbs or near lakefront "gold coast"
apartments would be a peculiar advertising tactic. There may be addicts in
those places, but not addicts to whom $200 means much.
Eight Chicago women--four black, four white--have completed Keller's
program. Five have had tubal ligations, two are using Depo-Provera, one
is using Norplant. Those eight women have had a total of 58 pregnancies,
15 abortions and 39 living children, 15 of them born exposed to drugs. Of
the 39, 19 are with their mothers, 20 have been adopted or are in foster
care. Nationally, 87 women have fulfilled the CRACK requirements. The
87 have had 628 pregnancies, 234 of which were aborted, 394 brought to
Critics charge that the $200 incentive is "coercive," endangering
reproductive rights, particularly because addicts may be too addled by
drugs to manage informed consent. Keller responds: "If the
naysayers"--particularly, he says, Planned Parenthood and the American
Civil Liberties Union--"are so concerned about the woman's inability to
utilize informed consent in choosing long-term birth control, doesn't that
call into question that same woman's ability to effectively meet the needs of
her newborn baby?" Furthermore, Planned Parenthood does not test a
woman for drug addiction before helping her make a presumably informed
decision for abortion.
The controversy about CRACK is a case study in reckless commentary.
Typical of assaults on CRACK is a column in the Chicago Defender, an
African American newspaper, saying: "The suspicion is that the CRACK
campaign is yet another ploy aimed at reducing the African American
population." And Bruce Boyer of Northwestern University Law School,
writing in the Chicago Tribune, has raised the specter of eugenics.
He says, irrelevantly, that early in this century some reformers proposed
sterilization of some retarded persons, and he notes, ominously, that
Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, in a case of the forced
sterilization of a retarded woman, said "three generations of imbeciles is
enough." Boyer adds, "Echoes of Holmes' words reverberate in the
arguments of CRACK founder Barbara Harris, who contends that the best
solution to curtailing the number of drug-addicted babies is to stop
drug-addicted parents from having children in the first place."
It takes willful perversity to hear such "echoes." Protecting the life chances
of babies has nothing to do with eugenics, CRACK forces no one to do
anything, and Harris and Keller stress that their program is no substitute for
large drug treatment efforts. Now operating in Minnesota, Florida,
Nevada, Arizona and Northern California, it is still a thimble for bailing the
ocean of half a million babies born each year after prenatal exposure to
People concerned about the right of addicted women to inflict their
addictions on their babies ignore the baby's right not to have its life blighted
by a chemical assault in the womb. Fortunately, Clarence Page, the
Tribune's nationally syndicated African American columnist, has helped to
save this issue from being drowned in diatribe.
He says, "Harris appears to be just one of many angry Americans who has
held trembling drug-addicted babies in her arms and become outraged
enough to want to do something about it." Remarkable, is it not, how a
single adjective--"trembling"--can refute
Comment on JWR contributor George Will's column by clicking here.
11/01/99: Crack and Cant
10/28/99: Tax Break for the Yachting Class
10/25/99: Ready for The Big Leagues?
10/21/99: Where honor and responsibility still exist
10/18/99: Is Free Speech Only for the Media?
10/14/99: A Beguiling Amateur
10/11/99: Money in Politics: Where's the Problem?
10/08/99: Soft Thinking On Soft Money
©1999, Washington Post Writer's Group