Peddling Birth Control
A Confusing Corner of the Birth-Control Debate
Theryn Kigvamasud'Vashti of CARA was the most vocal. Female drug addicts, she said, are being preyed upon by Sonnenberg with quick cash during vulnerable moments in their lives. Sonnenberg's group even posts fliers outside methadone clinics, where women may be seeking help for their addictions. Furthermore, the activists alleged, Sonnenberg's mission is eugenic: The old Queen Anne woman wants to prevent procreation among indigent and minority women.
After more than an hour, the oldest person in attendance--a 65-year-old white woman wearing a candy-striped shirt--got up and left. Nobody had recognized this woman, but it was Sonnenberg herself, there to spy on the group.
Once outside, Sonnenberg let her opinions fly. "What's so wrong about encouraging birth control to people who are acting irresponsibly?" asked Sonnenberg, who actually lives in Belltown. "This is about the lesser of two evils. We can do all the handwringing we want, but nobody's getting anything done." Sonnenberg heatedly denied the eugenics charge, even though a disproportional number of women who use Sonnenberg's services are black. "I'm not trying to get rid of a certain type of baby," she said, "I just want all babies to have a happy life."
Sonnenberg's Project Prevention is a chapter of the national organization CRACK (Children Requiring a Caring Kommunity), which was launched in 1997 by a Californian named Barbara Harris. CRACK has given money ($200 a pop) to 442 "clients." High-profile conservatives like radio talk-show host Laura Schlessinger have endorsed and funded the group. CRACK's stated goal is to limit the number of babies born with brain damage like fetal-alcohol syndrome.
CRACK has generated controversial media attention in every city where it has been established. Sonnenberg's chapter has been active since the spring of last year, and it has paid 33 local women to accept a major form of birth control.
Until last week's meeting, no one had tried to organize against Sonnenberg. The anti-CRACK meeting started out as a class project in feminism. CARA's Kigvamasud'Vashti hopes to expand it into real opposition. The idea behind CRACK is appalling, she says. "When you offer $200 to someone who is clearly addicted to drugs, that is clearly coercion," she asserts.
But it's not yet clear how much support the anti-CRACK group will receive. CARA members have a hard time translating their points from academic mumbo jumbo into terms that the average person can understand. Part of the problem stems from the fact that the CRACK concept puts the Left in an odd position. Liberals reflexively favor a woman's right to choose, be it abortion or birth control. But when it comes to CRACK, liberals are arguing that poor and minority women really don't know what's best for their own bodies.
Sonnenberg readily admits that the women who accept the money often turn around and spend the money on drugs. "I'm uncomfortable with that," she says, before repeating her lesser-of-two-evils line. "Society just doesn't seem to be able to deal with this dilemma [of drug-addicted pregnant women], either in terms of social-welfare legislation or of punishment," she says. "The baby always turns out losing."