Preventing Project Prevention

This is a guest post by Stuart Sorensen.  Thank you Stuart!

Thank you CB for giving me this opportunity to post on your blog. It’s nice to have the chance to raise awareness of this organisation’s activities and to show how they might be stopped.

I first became aware of this organisation’s designs upon the UK last April and have been trying to raise awareness ever since.
The stated aim of Project Prevention is to prevent the birth of drug exposed children. The idea appears to be that no life at all is preferable to life gestated by an addict.

However, the ‘questions and answers’ section of Project Prevention’s website makes it clear that the prevention of social delinquency and violent crime are just as high on the charity’s agenda. It seems that discrimination based upon parental behaviour and denying the right to life of the socially disadvantaged is just as important to Harris.

It’s a voluntary scheme, began when Barbara Harris failed to get a bill passed in California making sterilisation compulsory and enforceable. It’s worth spending a moment reflecting upon just what such a law would mean.
It’s hard to see how it might be enforced without the aid of state officials quite literally kicking in the doors of hapless victims and dragging them off by force to the operating room.

It’s also worth considering the objections raised by the former drug using community (those ex addicts who have moved on with their lives). Many former addicts would have accepted almost any deal that provided them with the money to buy more drugs. Needless to say they represent the poorer end of the substance-using community. Those with money would hardly consider selling their future fertility for a trifling £200. Only the poorest would think this a reasonable deal – precisely the demographic Harris is interested in. But make no mistake, successful and wealthy people use drugs and alcohol too. But Project Prevention doesn’t seem to mind that.

There are many other reasons for this opposition.

Some of the objections include:
Philosophical arguments about anti-discrimination and the right to life;

Problems taking a controversial American service and parachuting it into UK where we have an effective welfare state and free access to alternative methods of birth control and reproductive health management;

Ethical issues concerning the fact that Project Prevention bribes people to consent to something not designed to be in their best interests but rather to serve the ideological, religious and economic ideals of others;

The inherent pessimism in offering a permanent ‘solution’ to a temporary problem;

The project’s historical focus upon predominantly black neighbourhoods and it’s link to eugenicist and ‘scientific racist’ Chris Brand;

The ethical problems associated with encouraging desperate people to make long term health decisions for financial reasons;

The short-sightedness of a project that aims to prevent life for those it deems fit only for a life of crime (read the Project Prevention website) but does little to tackle the real problem.
The main objective of Project Prevention is to reduce the number of substance exposed births to zero. In doing so, Project Prevention seeks to reduce the burden of this social problem on taxpayers, trim down social worker caseloads, and alleviate from our clients the burden of having children that will potentially be taken away.”
“The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that there were 740,000 substance exposed babies born in 1997. In Los Angeles, CA, 12,338 drug addicted babies were born between 1992 and 1996. This represents an average of eight addicted babies born everyday in one county. Some studies have shown that drug exposed children have trouble with language development and paying attention. Could this be why (according to a 3/7/99 L.A. Times article) special education costs in California have risen 35% in the last decade? Special education costs per child range from $3,000 to $125,000 per year depending on the severity of child’s learning disabilities and behavior problems.”

So why does this sectarian organisation, based as it is in eugenic racism and a philosophy that sacrifices vulnerable children to reduce tax seem so appealing to people in UK? One reason is simply that the amount of information presented by Project Prevention is so limited.

The name Chris Brand isn’t mentioned in the Project Prevention literature. Nor is the word ‘eugenics’. The fact that Chris Brand described the project as something that he hoped “will bring real advances for the eugenic cause”. is never reported on the website either.
Instead the reader is sucked into a superficial but initially quite compelling ‘black and white’ argument designed to use public sympathy for drug exposed babies as justification for their ‘prevention’. The website is disparaging about drug addicted mothers and dismissive of the prospects either for them or for their children.

The fact that UK midwives and other health professionals deal very effectively with these problems is ignored. Instead the website focuses upon problems such as ADHD and speculates that maternal addiction might be to blame for the rise in the US learning disabilities. The fact that their own statistics suggest otherwise is strangely absent from this argument.

Neither is there any discussion about the right to live a life with disability. Instead the Project appeals to the greed and self interest of the reader by talking about taxation instead. This ‘ready made solution’ approach that combines the carrot of tax savings (beyond Project Prevention’s control anyway) with the emotionally blackmailing stick of addicted babies is powerful. It tricks the reader into an uncomfortable proposition:
‘Support Project Prevention or the babies will suffer’
This is all the more bizarre when the aim of Project Prevention is the eugenic prevention of these babies ever existing.

Not surprisingly a number of professional groups objected. I interviewed Sara Stocks (then director of Project Prevention UK) last July and was given assurances that the UK model would be significantly different from the unethical process operated across the Atlantic. The interview was recorded and although the sound quality isn’t brilliant you can listen to it here:
Since that time the UK directorate of Project Prevention has collapsed under the weight of ethical concerns and opposition from professional lobbyists in this country. However the fight continues as the American founder of Project Prevention, Barbara Harris has continued to target UK from her base across the Atlantic. Harris has been in the UK media regularly of late. It was she who accosted a mother and son in Possil Park, Glasgow with offers of a bribe if the woman (who was not an addict) undergo sterilisation. It was also Harris who handed over £200 cash to “John” from Leicester who had a vasectomy earlier this month.

It’s interesting, given that John could never have passed on any in-utero damage or addiction to any potential child how this meets the aim of preventing disability. However it’s not so hard to understand how it meets the eugenic argument so hotly denied by Harris and her supporters.

More disturbing in legal terms is the secrecy surrounding ‘John’s’ vasectomy. We now know that his real name is Alan and that the involvement of Project Prevention was kept hidden from professionals until after the procedure had been completed.
This raises major issues around duty of care and safeguarding legislation which I have outlined in letters to front line workers here:
UK safeguarding legislation exists precisely to prevent this sort of abuse but we need people to report wrongdoing. There’s a longer explanation of the legal issues surrounding Project Prevention in UK here:
There’s also an excellent open letter written by ‘Andrea’ to politicians and other ‘officials’ here:
I urge you to distribute these letters to anyone you may know who might come into contact with Project Prevention and their activities.

You can also get regular updates about the project from my own blog by clicking on the Project Prevention category here:

Please speak out against this extremely cynical organisation and help us to kick it back over the Atlantic.

9 thoughts on “Preventing Project Prevention

  1. I really wondered how this woman was allowed to swan in and start hunting down her prey?
    It seems odd to me that our own bureaucracy is so well developed to prevent this kind of predatory behaviour (CRB etc) but that ‘good ideas’ like this whether for education consultancy purposes or social services, seem to have ‘free access’ to a ‘market’ of vulnerable people.

    It’s really wrong that noone is advocating on behalf of the people who are being ‘snatched’ by this organisation!!!!

    YUK YUK YUK…is all I can say.

  2. We had a major stand up row in our office when someone first mentioned this. I don’t do rows, let alone stand up rows, but to the best of my knowledge not one person who was on the “sterilise ’em all” camp, had ever been addicted to anything, nor had even the slightest idea of how when you feel like that, future is something that belongs to other people and you’d sell anything to make the pain stop.

    I come in contact with quite a lot of ex-users now due to my work, and I have nothing but the utmost admiration for them, especially as they shepherd other users through the rehab process. No ONE has a crystal ball, and no one should be allowed to write a person off.

    Lola x

  3. You may find today’s post on my own blog interesting, Lola. It’s about positive outcomes in spite of addiction – essentially making the point that my father’s amphetamine addiction didn’t stop his kids from doing ok – let alone grandkids.

  4. There’s some information missing here that leads people to think the wrong way. One is that they just offering to sterilize the addicts, this is not true. They also provide for long term birth control like the IUD or Norplant, Patches, Shots, things like that. Another is that they are being racist, anyone that looks at the statistics on their web site shows that they are not. Heck the majority of the clients have been white. So if she’s racist it’s against her own race……sounds fishy to me. I think that she started a great program. For more informed decisions go to

  5. We aren’t going to agree on that but if people are interested in alternate views, of course they should click on the link you provided.

  6. Pingback: How we beat Project Prevention « Stuartsorensen’s Blog

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