Iowa First State to Repeal HIV Criminalization Law
The new legislation modernizes a law originally passed in the late 1990s that made it a felony, punishable by up to 25 years in prison, for any person living with HIV and aware of his or her status to expose another person to bodily fluids “in a manner that could result in the transmission” of HIV—even if condoms were used.
Instead, the new law considers whether there was intent to transmit HIV, whether there was any significant risk of HIV infection, and whether transmission actually occurred. As noted in a press release from non-profit advocacy group the Sero Project, the newly signed bill also covers several other infectious diseases, “making the statute’s classification of infectious diseases consistent with other parts of the Iowa code.”
Included in the legislation is a clause that frees previously convicted individuals from the formerly mandatory sex offender registration—individuals like Nick Rhodes, who was convicted of aggravated assault under the old law despite both his undetectable viral load and his use of condoms.
The bill itself, Senate File 2297, is available online. To learn more about the new bill’s passage, read Andrew Forsyth’s post, excerpted below and available at Blog.AIDS.gov. And for an in-depth discussion of HIV criminalization in the United States, read Ari Waldman’s BETA column, “Ask a Lawyer: The Injustice of HIV Criminalization.”
June 2, 2014
By Andrew D. Forsyth, PhD
On May 30, 2014, Iowa Governor Terry Branstad signed into law a bill making substantial revisions to the state’s HIV criminalization law. The new legislation rewrote state law 709c, which was originally passed in 1998 and made it a felony, punishable by up to 25 years in prison, for persons living with HIV infection (PLWH) who are aware of their serostatus to expose “the body of one person to a bodily fluid of another person in a manner that could result in the transmission” of HIV. Under the former law, PLWH could be found guilty of a felony even if a condom was used during sex and no HIV infection resulted. The legislation, known as Senate File 2297, was passed unanimously by both houses of the state legislature.
This development is noteworthy given its relevance to the National HIV/AIDS Strategy (NHAS) recommendation to reduce stigma and discrimination against PLWH by asking State legislatures to “consider reviewing HIV-specific criminal statutes to ensure that they are consistent with current knowledge of HIV transmission and support public health approaches to preventing and treating HIV.” Further, the authors of a recently published review of HIV-specific state criminal laws by the CDC and the U.S. Department of Justice encouraged states with such laws to “re-examine those laws, assess the laws’ alignment with current evidence regarding HIV transmission risk, and consider whether the laws are the best vehicle to achieve their intended purposes.”
“In updating this law, Iowans have taken a bold step forward to dispel stereotypes and discrimination against persons living with HIV infection,” said Mr. Douglas M. Brooks, Director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy….