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AHF Says 'Op-Out' Clause is Crucial to New Jersey Law Requiring HIV Testing of Pregnant Women
Date:12/26/2007

Goal: Increase Testing While Preserving Choice

SACRAMENTO, Calif., Dec. 26 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), the operator of the largest non-government HIV testing program in California, today offered its qualified support for a new HIV testing protocol signed into law yesterday in New Jersey by Acting Governor Richard J. Codey. The legislation requires the routine testing of pregnant women and some newborns for HIV, a policy that has met with criticism from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and certain women's groups. AHF, which has recently spearheaded and partnered in a groundbreaking HIV testing initiative in California to conduct one million free HIV tests over the next three years with the City of Los Angeles, notes that the most crucial component of the New Jersey legislation is a clause in the bill allowing a woman the choice to opt out of the testing should she so choose.

According to an Associate Press article earlier today, "The bill allows women to opt out of the HIV testing, but critics contend the screening will deprive women of their right to make medical decisions." AP also noted that, "New Jersey has required providers only to offer HIV testing to pregnant women. Under the new law, HIV testing will be part of routine prenatal care for all pregnant women, and doctors will provide pregnant woman with information about HIV and AIDS. It also requires newborns to be tested when the mother has tested positive or her HIV status is unknown."

"AHF supports the widespread and greatly increased availability of HIV testing in the US and overseas; however, we are firmly against mandatory testing for HIV. Our position has been, and remains in support of routine HIV testing with an 'opt out' clause--as is the current testing protocol for pregnant women with regard to rubella, hepatitis C, and certain other communicable diseases--and has now been incorporated into this new law in New Jersey," said Whitney Engeran, III, Director of Public Health Division for AIDS Healthcare Foundation. "Requiring a patient to opt out of a test rather than having to volunteer for a test is a policy and legislative decision that will clearly result in more women being tested, while also preserving their right to choose to test or not."

"From a public health perspective, this legislation allows New Jersey to get a better handle on its HIV incidence while also affording many in need the chance to access care and services for their HIV disease sooner," said Joseph Terrill, Acting Director of Public Affairs for AIDS Healthcare Foundation. "Consistent with recent CDC recommendations, this legislation should help normalize the process of testing by making HIV screening a routine part of medical care while preserving the crucial and empowering option of choice in the process."

Changes in Federal Guidelines on HIV Testing

On September 22, 2006, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued its "Revised Recommendations for HIV Testing." In that document, the CDC strongly urged routine HIV screening of all persons in a health care setting. This new bill will serve to modernize New Jersey law and enable the state to meet CDC expectations while preserving a woman's right to opt out of testing should she so choose.

According to the CDC, "HIV infection is consistent with all generally accepted criteria that justify screening: HIV infection is a serious health disorder that can be diagnosed before symptoms develop; HIV can be detected by reliable, inexpensive, and noninvasive screening tests; Infected patients have years of life to gain if treatment is initiated early, before symptoms develop; and the costs of screening are reasonable in relation to the anticipated benefits."

About AHF

AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) is the nation's largest non-profit HIV/AIDS healthcare, research, prevention and education provider. In California, AHF operates the largest non-government HIV testing program, which conducts more than 15,000 HIV tests annually. AHF currently provides medical care and/or services to more than 61,000 individuals in 19 countries worldwide in the US, Africa, Latin America/Caribbean and Asia. Additional information is available at http://www.aidshealth.org


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SOURCE AIDS Healthcare Foundation
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