Drug users can be good parents. Fact. This statement flies in the face of a pernicious campaign that is spreading from America that offers drug users money to be sterilised or to take contraception to stop them having babies.
According to Barbara Harris from US based charity Project Prevention people who use drugs shouldn’t have children. Not content to take away the rights of UK citizens to choose to become parents she is now setting her sights on some of the most vulnerable people in Haiti and across Africa.
Harris’ campaign is set to offer contraceptive injections every three months to women in Haiti in exchange for food cards. In her own words she says, “The women in Haiti are having children they can’t even feed, so why are they getting pregnant?…”
As well as targeting those who have lost everything, she also plans to targets women in Africa who are HIV positive. “My thinking is, why are they having these babies? … If you know you have AIDS why are you getting pregnant and having babies that you know are going to have AIDS? Babies are suffering. It’s preventable.”
These comments are deeply worrying on many levels not least because for good public health we need to create the conditions where people feel safe to get the right advice and healthcare in a supportive environment.
The Alliance works with injecting drug users, sex workers and women living with HIV, many of whom are good parents who love their children and put them first. We know that stigmatising people puts them at increased risk of HIV and violence and prevents them and their children from attempting to find care and support.
People we work with have wanted to respond publicly to Harris’ comments, but not wanted to risk being identified as a parent that uses drugs. They fear they may be judged as a bad parent and face their children being taken away, despite the fact they hold down a job, their children go to school, and people around them have no idea they use drugs.
People who use drugs can be good parents and they can be bad parents, just like any other person. For many people becoming parents can be a catalyst for change in their lives. Harris’ campaign takes no account that peoples’ lives change or that if the right opportunity presents itself people may want to change and choose differently.
The poor knowledge about HIV is dangerous, stigmatising and ill informed. Women can and are being tested for HIV when they are pregnant and then receive treatment to ensure that their babies are not born HIV positive. It is a highly effective intervention and ensures that hundreds of thousands of HIV positive women are having healthy, HIV negative babies.
Harris thinks she has the right to decide who parents and who doesn’t. Where will she stop? What’s to say she will not target ‘poor parents’ in India or South America?
While Harris’ intention may be coming from a desire to do good, the reality is that her ideas are ignorant and dangerous. People with HIV and people who use drugs need support and services to take control of their health and care for their families.