September 25, 2008 — -- As Hurricane Gustav loomed off the coast of Louisiana, thousands of impoverished people flocked into shelters, where some of them seemed unprepared to take care of their young children's basic needs, forgetting to bring along diapers or medicine.
That heartbreaking scenario inspired Louisiana Republican State Rep. John LaBruzzo to start thinking about ways to stem generational welfare, in which many welfare recipients have children who also end up dependent on government assistance, according to the representative.
His idea -- giving $1,000 to poor women to undergo reproductive sterilization by Fallopian tube ligation -- is stirring up controversy among some medical professionals, who say that the proposal is offensive and smacks of long-discredited eugenics programs.
LaBruzzo has also suggested other controversial ideas: paying poor men to get vasectomies and giving tax incentives for college-educated wealthy couples to have more children.
"We have a problem of generational welfare in Lousiana," he tells ABCNews.com, adding today that he has modified his position to seek financial incentives for temporary forms of birth control instead of surgery.
"It's a horrible problem and we were brainstorming about some of the options, so I requested some information from Baton Rouge about the projected growth in welfare recipients and how much a proposal like this would cost," LaBruzzo said.
"After this recent storm, we had some issues where these people were going into shelters and taking their cigarettes and welfare but didn't have diapers or insulin for diabetic kids, and they felt they were entitled to say, 'Give me, give me.' None of them didn't want to set up cots or do anything."
LaBruzzo, who claimed that his constituents have complained about food stamp recipients driving Mercedes and Lexus luxury cars, denied that his idea was similar to eugenics, policies of selective breeding that were used in Nazi Germany and were popular in the U.S. in the late 19th and early 20th century.
"I don't know how it's eugenics if it's voluntary, and how can it be racist if the majority of people on welfare are white?" he said.
Local policy makers in Louisiana disputed the need for such a proposal, explaining that the number of welfare recipients in the state has plunged from a monthly average of 280,177 in fiscal 1990-'91 to 13,504 people in 2006-'07, according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune newspaper.
"Such bribes don't work," says Julie Mickelberry, spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of Louisiana and the Mississippi Delta. "It doesn't solve the underlying issues -- access to health care and paying jobs. If he'd like to ensure that men and women aren't having too many children, then he should propose legislation to make sure that health care and education to prevent unwanted pregnancy is available to everyone."
Yet Planned Parenthood has actually used financial incentives in the past to help curb teen pregnancy. In 1989, the group sponsored a program that paid teen mothers in Denver a dollar a day in return for not getting pregnant again.
And the program was successful at curbing pregnancies, according to Jeffrey Dolgan, a child psychologist in Denver who formulated the idea.
But Dolgan, who emphasized that his dollar-a-day program required participants to sit through meetings with support groups, was skeptical that LaBruzzo's idea would have the same impact.
"It seems coercive and I'm wondering if a young woman who undergoes this almost irreversible operation is in a position later on to be a capable parent," Dolgan said. "If you have no dollars, a thousand dollars is pretty compelling. And it smacks of eugenics."
A History of Tubal Ligation
LaBruzzo claimed that India and North Korea have conducted such sterilization programs in the past. Tubal ligation has long been a favored family planning method in India, according to the World Health Organization. Forced sterilization has been documented in China and North Korea by Human Rights Watch and other groups.
Earlier this century in the United States, more than 30 states implemented forced sterilization programs, and it is estimated that nearly 70,000 Americans were sterilized through such government plans. Oregon discontinued the last of their sterilization programs in 1981.
But there don't seem to be any programs similar to LaBruzzo's idea, according to Emily Jackson, a professor of law at the London School of Economics and the author of "Regulating Reproduction."
"I've never heard of such a program. One of the countries that has the most Draconian policies is China, but that's with the stick rather than the carrot," she said. "Regardless of whether it works, it's such a massive interference with people's right to make decisions about their own bodies."