NEW LEGISLATION: Decriminalizing HIV

In 2008, prosecutors charged Iowan, Nick Rhoades with criminal transmission of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus, even though he practiced safe sex and his partner did not contract HIV.

Rhoades was sentenced to 25 years in prison and placed on Iowa’s sex offender registry.  Some call that unfair – even discriminatory.

“We have a situation in Iowa where the law did not differentiate between exposure and transmission,” says Sen. Matt McCoy.  He’s introducing a bill that he says will modernize the law and recognize that people with HIV can lead healthy lives.

“What we wanted to do was de-stigmatize HIV,” says McCoy.  “We have a separate statute for HIV.  We don’t have a separate statute for tuberculosis or other contagious diseases.”

Health advocates also say the current law discourages HIV testing.  The saying goes, “If you take a test you risk arrest.”

“Because why would I want to know my status?” says Greg Gross, Prevention Services Manage for Project for Primary Health Care.  “Why would I want to be involved with public health when there’s this law on the books where I could face criminal prosecution.”

It’s especially disturbing because Iowa leads the nation in late diagnosis of HIV.  At initial diagnosis, 47-percent have already progressed to full-blown AIDS.

“And that’s not good,” says McCoy. “Because those people are a risk to everyone in our society, heterosexual and homosexual communities.”

Opponents of the bill argue everyone should know their partner’s HIV status.  McCoy doesn’t disagree, but he says a law requiring them to do so leads to a false sense of security.

“The assumption is that if they are positive they have to tell me.  Well that really isn’t the case.”

McCoy plans to introduce the “modernized” version of the law later this week.


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