New Jersey Requires HIV Tests for Pregnant Women, Some Infants
New Jersey Senate President Richard Codey (D), who was standing in for Gov. Jon Corzine (D) last week while he was out of the country, signed a bill (S 2704) into law that will require all pregnant women and some infants in the state to be tested for HIV unless women choose in writing to opt out of the test, the Newark Star-Ledger reports (Adarlo, Newark Star-Ledger, 12/27/07). The New Jersey Assembly and Senate in June voted 74-5 and 37-0, respectively, to approve the bill that Codey introduced in May.
Previous state law required health care providers to offer HIV tests to pregnant women. The new law requires pregnant women to be tested for HIV as early as possible in their pregnancy and again during the third trimester as part of routine prenatal care, unless they opt out. In addition, physicians and health care providers would be required to provide pregnant women with information about HIV/AIDS, the benefits of being tested, available medical treatment and how treatment can reduce the risk of mother-to-child HIV transmission. The law also requires infants to be tested for HIV if the mother is HIV-positive or if her HIV status is unknown at the time of birth. The state has about 115,000 births annually and had seven infants born with HIV in 2005 (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 6/25/07). The new law is scheduled to take effect in six months (Peters, New York Times, 12/27/07).
"We can significantly reduce the number of infections to newborns and help break down the stigma associated with the disease,' Codey said, adding, 'For newborns, early detection can be the ultimate lifesaving measure." Riki Jacobs -- executive director of the New Brunswick, N.J.-based Hyacinth AIDS Foundation, the state's largest AIDS service agency -- said the law will not help women who do not receive prenatal care. "We need to focus on getting people into care and keeping them in care,' Jacobs said, adding, "That is our most potent prevention weapon."
According to the AP/Chicago Sun-Times, some women's groups and the American Civil Liberties Union say the new law deprives women of the authority to make medical decisions. Maretta Short, president of the National Organization for Women of New Jersey, said, "Women's privacy rights and choices are as constitutionally valid as any other citizen, regardless of reproductive status" (AP/Chicago Sun-Times, 12/26/07).
New Brunswick News Tribune: There is "little question" that the law will halt the spread of HIV and improve treatment in the state, a News Tribune editorial says, adding that it is "simply incredible that this small step was never taken before." It has "long been clear that government leaders must do everything within their power" to reduce the spread of HIV, the editorial says, concluding that testing pregnant women and some infants is one "very reasonable way" to accomplish that goal (New Brunswick News Tribune, 12/29/07).
Newark Star-Ledger: New Jersey was "right to enact" the law that requires HIV testing for pregnant women and some infants, but testing "must be done in a way that does not give any woman reason to be concerned about the consequences of seeking prenatal care," a Star-Ledger editorial says. According to the editorial, HIV testing should be "part of caring, informed treatment" and "should not be presented as an accusatory confrontation." The editorial adds that "as with all medical testing and treatment, this mandate must be carried out with scrupulous respect for accuracy and privacy" (Newark Star-Ledger, 12/29/07).
Washington Post: The passage of the law "without the hysteria, rancor and fear that informed the nation's initial response to the AIDS epidemic" shows how "far we've come," a Post editorial says. According to the editorial, women could decide not to receive the test, but it is "hard to imagine anyone opting out" since CDC estimates that such testing, along with other practices, can reduce mother-to-child HIV transmission to less than 2% (Washington Post, 12/30/07).
NPR's "Morning Edition" on Thursday reported on the New Jersey law (Inskeep, "Morning Edition," NPR, 12/27/2007). Audio and a partial transcript of the segment are available online. This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.