Advocates, Officials Urge States To Update Laws That Criminalize HIV
Several states have HIV-specific criminal laws that federal officials and activists consider to be outdated and in need of revision, the AP/Sacramento Bee reports.
According to CDC, 33 states have HIV-specific laws that impose criminal penalties on individuals who expose others to HIV or fail to disclose their HIV-positive statuses to their sexual partners. According to the AP/Bee, the first of such laws to be enacted took effect in 1986, amid "intense" concern about HIV/AIDS. Further, most HIV-specific statutes took effect prior to the development of antiretroviral therapies that significantly curbed individuals' risk of transmitting the disease. According to CDC:
- 25 states currently have laws that criminalize behaviors that are now known to have a low or negligible risk of transmitting the disease; and
- 24 states currently require individuals who know they are HIV positive to inform their sexual partners.
Advocacy Efforts Underway
Advocates, health experts and other stakeholders increasingly are pushing states to revise or eliminate HIV-specific measures.
For example, a California-based coalition has drafted legislation that would reform various criminal statutes related solely to HIV/AIDS. The measure would remove HIV-specific language from the laws, allowing them instead to apply to all serious communicable diseases.
At the federal level, the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division in July 2014 issued a "best practices guide" that calls on states to reconsider laws that:
- Do not reflect current medical understanding of HIV; and
- Contribute to stigma against individuals who are HIV positive.
DOJ has advised states to abandon HIV-specific criminal penalties except:
- In cases when an individual who is HIV positive clearly intends to transmit the virus to another individual; and
- In sexual assault cases where the risk of transmission is present.
DOJ said, "While HIV-specific state criminal laws may be viewed as initially well-intentioned and necessary law enforcement tools, the vast majority do not reflect the current state of the science of HIV."
In addition, CDC has also noted that stigma discourages individuals from:
- Learning their HIV statuses;
- Disclosing their statuses to others; and
- Accessing medical care.
Meanwhile, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) has long sought support for a bill that would update state and federal laws that can discriminate against individuals with HIV, according to the AP/Bee (Crary/Melley, AP/Sacramento Bee, 11/24).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.