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New bill seeks to repeal outdated state HIV discrimination laws

Dan Roberts in Washington,     Tuesday 10 December 2013 15.48 EST

South Africans protest in support of action on HIV and Aids
ProPublica’s study ound 541 cases over the last decade where people have been convicted of, or pleaded guilty to, criminal charges for not disclosing their HIV status. Photo: Nic Bothma/EPA

A campaign against the criminalisation of HIV infection received a boost on Tuesday with the introduction of a bill in the US Senate aimed at repealing state laws said to discriminate against people with the virus.

Senator Chris Coons of Delaware joined existing efforts in the House of Representative by sponsoring legislation to roll back laws regulating the sexual activity of HIV-positive patients, many of which were introduced during initial waves of Aids panic in the 1980s.

His proposed federal legislation is targeted at 32 US states that retain laws making it illegal to not declare HIV status to sexual partners, regardless of whether there is a risk of transmission. Thirteen of these states also criminalise non-sexual acts, such as spitting, even though transmission by saliva is now thought impossible in such cases.

Coons, a member of the Senate judiciary committee, said such policies unfairly stigmatise the disease by applying differing legal standards for people with HIV, who can still be prosecuted for deliberate transmission of the virus under other criminal laws.

“It’s simply not fair that someone having been diagnosed with a chronic, treatable medical condition should automatically be subject to a different set of criminal laws,” he said.

“A disturbing number of state and local criminal laws pertaining to individuals with HIV/Aids are rooted not in science, but outdated fear. Rather than recognising that HIV/Aids is a treatable medical condition, these laws perpetuate the idea that HIV is a deadly weapon and people with HIV/Aids are dangerous criminals.”

His bill, known as the Repeal Existing Policies that Encourage and Allow Legal HIV Discrimination Act, mirrors a similar attempt to modernise state law in the House of Representatives.

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