Federal Judge Hears Arguments in Case Challenging USAID Policy Requiring Pledge Against Commercial Sex Work
U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero on Thursday heard arguments in a lawsuit challenging a U.S. policy that requires recipients of federal HIV/AIDS service grants to pledge to oppose commercial sex work or to be refused federal funding, the AP/Long Island Newsday reports (Neumeister, AP/Long Island Newsday, 4/13). The Bush administration in June 2005 notified U.S. organizations providing HIV/AIDS-related services in other countries that they must sign the pledge to be considered for federal funding. The policy stems from two 2003 laws, including an amendment to legislation (HR 1298) authorizing the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief that prohibits funds from going to any group or organization that does not have a policy "explicitly opposing prostitution and sex trafficking" (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 9/26/05). The Open Society Institute, the Alliance for Open Society International and Pathfinder International last year filed the lawsuit in New York City against USAID over the policy (AP/Long Island Newsday, 4/13). OSI has said the policy "weakens efforts to provide lifesaving services and information to sex workers" and is unconstitutional because it is vague and requires private organizations to adopt the government's position (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 9/26/05).
"It's one thing to say you're opposed to prostitution," Rebekah Diller, attorney for the plaintiffs, said, adding, "It's another thing to say there's only one approach to [commercial sex work], and that's what the defendants have said here." Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Rosberger said the 2003 law mandating the pledge did not contain any provision intended to deter HIV/AIDS treatment efforts, including those for commercial sex workers. "Beyond Congress, the president himself stated that [commercial sex work] contributes to trafficking and exposure to HIV and committed the [U.S.] itself to eradicating such practices," Rosberger said, adding, the policy is "trying to implement the priorities of the [laws] by making sure that its message is transmitted and that it finds the most appropriate partners to accomplish its mission of combating HIV/AIDS." Diller said, "When you bring in private partners, though, you bring in the First Amendment, and that's what the government's failing to grapple with here," adding that the policy is a "First Amendment nightmare." The plaintiffs also have said that the policy would restrict anyone from advocating for the legalization of commercial sex work or unionization of commercial sex workers. Marrero did not immediately issue a decision (AP/Long Island Newsday, 4/13).