Spiking Methadone With Oral Contraceptives, the Latest in the War on Reproductive Rights

It is a refreshing change to see how legislators across the Atlantic are so forthcoming about their intentions, as compared to our own sly devils. In the United Kingdom, Duncan McNeil, a Scottish Parliament Minister, wants to add oral contraceptives into methadone in order to punish opiate addicted women who are taking steps to end drug dependency and lead healthier lives. He offers this Faustian deal: if you want methadone, which is a medically approved and prescribed TREATMENT for opiate addiction, then you must give up your right to procreate. Whether you have to read between the lines or just read between the quotes, advocates on both sides of the Atlantic are saying the same thing: If you are poor, a person of color, and use certain drugs, you are a bad person and the more of these characteristics you have, the more undeserving you are to be a mom.

McNeil’s suggestion follows the death of a child who ingested the methadone that was prescribed for his parents. McNeil’s rationale is that he is protecting children from harm by preventing their potential mothers from ever bearing them. “I don’t think it’s a good idea that when you’re addicted to drugs, you should start a family.” While few Americans have been so bold to suggest that we lace the medications of certain groups with contraceptive drugs, that statement sounds eerily familiar. Barbara Harris, the Executive Director of Children Require A Caring Kommunity (C.R.A.C.K.), now known as Project Prevention (PP), could be Duncan McNeil’s twin. She too, has stated that "I'm sure one thing most can agree on is that it is important for those using methadone or other drugs to refrain from getting pregnant” in outreach literature that PP has sent to methadone clinics. PP offers $200 to currently or previously drug-addicted or alcoholic women who agree to be sterilized or to use a long acting contraceptive such as Norplant or Depo-Provera.

In addition to providing misinformation on drug use among pregnant women, this organization shows little or no belief in the likelihood that drug users can ever live productive lives or be caring, compassionate parents. Rather than promote treatment and increase the availability of health services to help women and families, this organization spreads dangerous propaganda, claiming that “women and men who are using or addicted to drugs are often responsible for an extraordinary number of pregnancies (5-10) or more.” Duncan McNeil perpetuates a similar myth, asking “[w]hy are we in a situation where so many of those who are addicted to drugs are having children?” The truth is that studies have shown that low-income women with drug problems have an average of two to three children each, pretty much like everyone else. The state has no business regulating procreation, period. Governments in the past have tried such approaches (think Germany, think US eugenics laws) with disastrous results.

The similarities between the two are uncanny - could they have been separated at birth? Both Harris and McNeil claim to be fighting child abuse, when in reality they are fighting to control and limit women’s reproductive rights. McNeil expressly promotes punishing women who are seeking treatment, (and oh yes, even though he doesn’t specify which gender would be subject to his plan, oral contraception only works on women) and punishing poor families for choosing to have children. He believes that if you are on medication that enables you to lead a healthy and happy life, the state may nonetheless decide that you don’t have the right to have a family. So, beware all you women out there with health issues that require you to take prescription medication like methadone, prednisone, cytoxin, or insulin, all of which, if left open and unattended, can be deadly to small children if ingested. How dare you think that, despite having cancer, lupus, diabetes, or any other disease, you have the right to bear a child!

On our own shores, legislators don’t need to spell out so bluntly their plan to curtail the right to procreate of those people that they find distasteful when we have organizations like PP and our own courts! In New York, Judge Marilyn O’Connor banned a couple from having any more children until they are economically capable of regaining custody of the children that had already been removed from them. In New Mexico, a woman was given a probation condition that she not get pregnant for five years. And let’s not forget the media! Remember when Norplant first passed FDA approval? A few weeks later, the Philadelphia Inquirer printed an editorial in which it suggested that Norplant could be a useful tool for "reducing the underclass," linking the need for population control to black women on welfare.

Arguments for controlling and punishing procreation of certain groups remains a potent argument on both sides of the Atlantic. Those who truly believe in “choice” and in reproductive justice, must be ever vigilant, ready to fight intrusions on reproductive rights including those made in the guise of child protection and the war on drugs and drug users.

Tiloma Jayasinghe, NAPW Baron Edmond de Rothschild Staff Attorney Fellow