The horrifying story of “crack babies” was used in the 1980s to fuel anti-drug sentiments. In addition there was a decidedly racial element to the stories as well, as urban black women, also of course depicted as women abusing the welfare system, were the focus of stories about babies born with no hope, addicted to crack cocaine and permanently robbed of their mental powers. The story of crack babies was a heavy element of the “Just Say No” campaign of the Reagan administration. The sentiment that was raised by the story was one of outrage towards poor urban blacks, and one of outrage at all systems that were designed to help poor urban blacks because it was felt that these people were not capable of helping themselves and they were just abusing the system for selfish purposes and innocent children were suffering because of it. To top it off, it was being said that “crack babies” would never be able to care for themselves and that they would be a significant “tax burden” on the American tax payer.
All of this was used to build support for the War on Drugs and the legislation that took anti-drug action to new levels. The stories of “crack babies” helped to promote the anti-drug movement in general because all drugs were stereotyped together as being similar; the “evils” of one drug were applied to the whole group.
The truth of the matter is that there never was any “crack baby” crisis. In fact later studies have shown that the two “drugs” that are most responsible for the variety of birth abnormalities attributed to crack, including premature birth, low weight birth and spastic muscle control shortly after birth, are actually alcohol and tobacco. Other related conditions of cocaine users that affect the development of the fetus are poor diet and lack of sleep.
Even though babies born to mothers who use crack are still viewed by the public as the most sever cases of problem births, the truth is that fetal alcohol syndrome is the most sever problem in America that is related to chemical use during pregnancy.
In 1985 Ronald Reagan called Carla Hale, the founder of Hale House, a house that cares for “crack babies” and other children born to mothers with drug problems, “an angel and an American heroine” during his State of the Union address for her public efforts in caring for "crack babies".
In a1986 speech Reagan stated:
"As a parent, I'm especially concerned about what drugs are doing to young mothers and their newborn children. Listen to this news account from a hospital in Florida of a child born to a mother with a cocaine habit: "Nearby, a baby named Paul lies motion less in an incubator, feeding tubes riddling his tiny body. He needs a respirator to breathe and a daily spinal tap to relieve fluid buildup on his brain. Only 1 month old, he's already suffered 2 strokes."
Now you can see why drug abuse concerns every one of us-all the American family."
And then went on to say:
"Our job is never easy because drug criminals are ingenious. They work everyday to plot a new and better way to steal our children's lives, just as they've done by developing this new drug, crack."
"Life can be great, but not when you can't see it. So, open your eyes to life: to see it in the vivid colors that God gave us as a precious gift to His children, to enjoy life to the fullest, and to make it count. Say yes to your life. And when it comes to drugs and alcohol just say no."
The reality is that although the mother may have had a cocaine habit, cocaine was not the cause of the problems.
Once the “crack baby” myth was born, the Reagan administration embraced it and used it to promote its agenda. The issue was used by politicians on all sides, both left and right. Liberals used the issue to try and get more funding for programs to study and care for these children and Conservatives used the issue to stir feelings of hate and disgust at poor inner city minorities. The issue was also used to support stronger anti-drug laws and to support money for international anti-drug programs, such as those that still operate in South America today.
For more information and official statements by the American Medical Association: