Illinois House Committee Approves Bill That Would Mandate HIV Testing for Infants Born to Untested Women
The Illinois House Human Services Committee on Thursday approved 9-3 a bill (HB 4306) that would mandate HIV testing of infants born to untested women unless a parent or guardian objects on religious grounds, the Chicago Tribune reports. Since August 2004, Illinois has required hospitals and clinics to counsel pregnant women about HIV and offer a blood test for the virus. As a result, the number of pregnant women who know their HIV status before they leave the hospital has increased from 72% to 98%, according to the Tribune (Peres/Possley, Chicago Tribune, 1/20). The state's current law requires any pregnant woman who decides to be tested to sign an informed consent form before undergoing the test. Infants born to women whose HIV status is unknown also are automatically tested for the virus unless the mother signs a form to opt out of the infant testing (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 4/22/03). Under the proposed measure, sponsored by state Rep. Mary Flowers (D), infants automatically would be tested regardless of parental consent unless a parent or guardian submits a written form to the physician that the test "conflicts with his or her religious tenets and practices" (HB 4306 text, 1/19). The state House Human Services committee on Thursday asked Flowers to hold the bill for possible amendments, according to the Tribune.
The bill is supported by the Illinois Department of Public Health. "There's a very small number of children for whom this (mandatory testing) is the last chance," Ram Yogev, a pediatrician at Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago and proponent of the bill, said, adding, but "who are we to decide how small a number is too small?" Tom Hughes, deputy director of the state DOPH, said that Yogev had persuaded him to favor the bill, adding, "We have a moral responsibility to eliminate HIV where we can" (Chicago Tribune, 1/20). AIDS Foundation of Chicago opposes the bill because "it is unnecessary and discriminatory towards pregnant women," according to a release from the group (AFC release, 1/19). "This makes a mockery of the whole notion of voluntary testing for pregnant women," Ann Fisher, executive director of AIDS Legal Council of Chicago, said, adding, "When you test a newborn, you're only testing for the mother's antibodies." CDC recommends that HIV testing should be "voluntary and free of coercion." New York and Connecticut are the only states that mandate HIV testing of infants (AP/Long Island Newsday, 1/20).