CRACK Gains Momentum, But So Does the Resistance

Author(s): Rajani Bhatia, April Taylor, and Toni Bond
Date Published: July 13, 2006

The cash-for-sterilization program, "Children Requiring A Caring Kommunity," or CRACK, continues to grow. Though its number of total clients may appear small (as of October 18, 2000, there were 296), that number has more than quintupled in the last 14 months, largely affecting women from economically deprived communities. Originating in Anaheim, California, CRACK then spread to major cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco, Phoenix, Seattle, Chicago, Houston, Dallas, Denver, Washington, DC and Atlanta. The CRACK program targets substance-addicted women who are largely from poor neighborhoods, and offers them $200, if they agree to get sterilized or use long-acting birth control. CRACK receives funding from the anti-Gay and anti-Choice radio talk show host, Dr. Laura Schlessinger, and Richard Mellon Scaife. According to a 1996 publication by Planned Parenthood Association of Pennsylvania, "Money, Power, and the Radical Right in Pennsylvania," Richard Mellon Scaife is a multi-millionaire, who controls several foundations which support predominantly radical right organizations and individuals including Newt Gingrich, the Heritage Foundation, and several anti-immigrant groups (see "Update: Who is Funding the Greening of Hate" in this issue).

But resistance to CRACK is growing also. CWPE has reached out to advocates of public health, reproductive rights, and drug treatment to build a coalition of groups around the nation that oppose the mission and coercive approach of the CRACK Program.

In Chicago

CRACK's private, controversial activities connected too closely to the provision of public services from the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS).

When CRACK announced the opening of a chapter in Chicago, Toni Bond and Sarah Bortt initiated discussion on the CRACK controversy with women and health organizations in the Chicago area, such as African American Women Evolving, the Chicago Abortion Fund, the Chicago Women's Health Center, the Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health, and the Substance Abuse Ministry at Trinity Church. These community advocates explored how the inherently coercive CRACK program infringes on reproductive rights and impedes drug treatment.

In a phone call to the Chicago CRACK Chapter Coordinator, Lyle Keller, Toni Bond discovered that Keller worked for the Illinois DCFS. In this capacity, Keller was responsible for steering mothers impacted by HIV/AIDS and substance abuse to public resources through the Healthy Mom's program. Mr. Keller's connection to CRACK created some controversy within his department, because his work with government services gave him direct access to potential clients of the CRACK program. Keller was subsequently transferred out of the Healthy Mom's program, though it is not known whether his transfer resulted from his involvement with the CRACK program.

Simply because CRACK is private, it gets away with an unethical, incentive-based program. Most people would agree that government involvement in such a program would amount to an unacceptable program of population control. Yet, taking advantage of the vulnerability of poor women with drug addictions, in order to get them sterilized or on long-term birth control, is inherently coercive regardless of who (government or a private organization) pays the monetary incentive.

In Boston

CRACK has not opened a chapter in Boston, and after the March 2000 panel discussion held at Boston University School of Public Health, they wouldn't dare.

On March 22, 2000, April Taylor organized a panel discussion, "Reproductive Rights, Human Rights, and the Ethical Implications of CRACK," at the Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) in conjunction with the BUSPH Health and Human Rights Caucus. The event was co-sponsored by CWPE along with the Center for Reproductive Law and Policy (New York City). It featured well-known, health law professor George Annas from BUSPH; CRACK's advisor on legal questions, Robert Pugsley; and Judith Scully, professor at the University of West Virginia School of Law and representative of both the National Conference of Black Lawyers and CWPE.

After the panelists' debate on the legal and human rights implications of CRACK, the audience joined in for an intense discussion. Pugsley faced critical questions and concerns from fellow panelists and the audience, who often appeared more informed on the issues than he was. Pugsley appeared visibly embarrassed when he was corrected on the basic usage of contraceptive methods. He said, "Norplant typically lasts for 6 months," (the hormonal implant lasts for 5 years), and he said he had never heard of a method of birth control that protects against contracting STDs and HIV! Judith Scully had to remind him of the condom. Many in the audience suggested those involved in promoting CRACK ought to spend their time and money promoting drug treatment instead. The question of incentives as a form of coercion was raised, along with CRACK's role in the privatization and legitimization of eugenics. Pugsley was promptly challenged again when he presented outdated definitions of what constitutes a family.

The event was packed with members of both community and student activist groups in the Boston area, including the Global Reproductive Health Forum at Harvard School of Public Health, Boston University's Medical Students for Choice, the Boston Black Women's Health Initiative (part of the National Black Women's Health Project), the AIDS Action Committee, the Multicultural Aids Center, Join Together (an organization which deals with substance abuse issues and is part of the Boston University Medical Center), the Committee Against Sexual Violence, the Men's Health Caucus of BUSPH, the Men's Health Program of the Roxbury Comprehensive Community Health Center, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, and the Abortion Access Committee.

Videotapes of the BUSPH Panel Discussion on CRACK are available for a suggested donation of $10.00 from CWPE. Please request a copy by contacting or 413-559-5506.

In Washington, DC

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) grants CRACK subsidized advertising on the Metrobus system, and the CRACK chapter coordinator, Melanie Folstad, rides with the police looking for neighborhoods to target. But a coalition of diverse groups has formed to raise opposition to CRACK nationally.

On June 26, 2000, an article by Avram Goldstein in the Washington Post announced the opening of a CRACK chapter in Washington, DC. WMATA routinely provides subsidized rates to allow a selection of non-profits to advertise on Metro trains or buses for less than the market price. The transit authority approved a CRACK ad, which was to appear on 500 interior bus placards during the month of July. For these ads, CRACK had to pay only $1,000, rather than the total $7,000 cost.

Rajani Bhatia initiated a petition demanding removal of the CRACK ads from the Metrobus System in the Washington, DC area. Amy Allina (National Women's Health Network), Shelia Clark (National Black Women's Health Project), and Luis Torres-Rivera (Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice) joined CWPE in drafting and promoting the petition. The action received solid backing and endorsement from organizations such as the Washington, DC Department of Health, the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals, the National Women's Law Center, the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League and many individuals. Members of the Metropolitan Washington Public Health Association, the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689 (a union of bus drivers) and the American Federation of Government Employees Local 12 sent further pleas to WMATA's General Manager, Richard A.White, requesting that the ads be removed. Nevertheless, the CRACK ads came down only as originally scheduled in mid-August. White wrote in his response to the petitioners that WMATA's decision was based on First Amendment considerations.

The Kaiser Daily Reproductive Health Reports on July 21st and the Washington City Paper on July 28th reported the petition action.

The Washington City Paper subsequently published a second article on September 22nd depicting the Washington, DC CRACK chapter coordinator, Melanie Folstad, as a timid county resident overwhelmed by the problems of the inner-DC "jungle". The article reported that Folstad rode in a Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) patrol car, in search of neighborhoods to target. Before Barbara Harris founded CRACK, she introduced a bill (#AB 2614 on February 21, 1996) to the California state legislature proposing the criminalization of pregnant women drug users for prenatal child neglect. The bill, which did not pass, would have convicted women to prison sentences lasting up to 10 years. Mirroring this approach, CRACK's present appeal for help from law enforcement in Washington, DC exposes how CRACK views low-income drug users as criminals, rather than women in need of treatment. In the City Paper article, CWPE questioned any involvement by the MPD in the administration or strategic marketing of the CRACK program.

At the National Level

CWPE's early actions and responses to CRACK fostered petition action and coalition-building in Washington, DC. An Ad Hoc Coalition Opposing the CRACK Program grew out of the petition action and was spearheaded by Kathleen Stoll from the Center for Women Policy Studies. Other participants in this coalition are CWPE, the National Women's Health Network, the National Black Women's Health Project, the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, Prevention Works & Needle Exchange in the Nation's Capitol, the Latino Council on Alcohol and Tobacco, and the Metropolitan Washington Public Health Association. This coalition has compiled a master packet of critical information on CRACK, providing new information aimed at policy-makers and legislators, and has created a model resolution for organizations to use in formulating critical public positions on CRACK.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the National Organization for Women Legal Defense and Education Fund are also organizing women's health and human rights advocates on the East and West Coasts to create strategies for legal challenges to CRACK at both the state and national level. During the latest annual American Public Health Association (APHA) meeting in Boston, 92% of the APHA governing council voted to pass a resolution opposing the CRACK program. The resolution was initiated by Karyn Pomerantz, member of the Metropolitan Washington Public Health Association. CWPE has been actively involved in assisting these efforts.