Exposing Others To HIV Will No Longer Be A Felony In California

Henrietta Brewer
October 10, 2017

California Governor Jerry Brown has signed a bill that reduces the crime of knowingly exposing a sexual partner to HIV without informing them from a felony to a misdemeanor.

HIV criminalization laws first emerged in the 1980s in response to the AIDS epidemic. When most of these laws were passed, there were no effective treatments for HIV and discrimination against people living with HIV was rampant.

Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) officially announced that people who are on regular viral load suppression medication can not transmit HIV to their partners, as it is maintained at undetectable levels.

While screening donated blood helps, it's also important that people who know they are infected not donate, because if infected blood never enters the blood donation system, that's the best prevention. Scott Wiener, a co-sponsor of the bill.

Purposely exposing a sexual partner to HIV without disclosing a positive status is no longer a felony in California.

"I'm of the mind that if you purposefully inflict another with a disease that alters their lifestyle the rest of their life, puts them on a regimen of medications to maintain any normalcy, it should be a felony", he said during the floor debate, as cited by Los Angeles Times. Joel Anderson of Alpine voted against the bill.

"It's absolutely insane to me that we should go light on this", he added.

"Good grief", wrote the National Review's Wesley Smith.

Intentionally infecting a partner with HIV will now be considered a misdemeanor, not a felony, in California.

But these types of cases are rare. In 2014, the past year for which I could find data, 6,721 died directly from AIDS, and there are tens of thousands of new infections. Women made up 43 percent, though they represent only 13 percent of the HIV-positive population in the state.

People at high risk of getting HIV can take a medicine known as pre-exposure prophylaxis, which greatly reduces the risk of getting the virus.

"At the very beginning, people expected to see most of the weight playing out in those intentional exposure laws", said Amira Hasenbush, a fellow at the Williams Institute and the co-author of the reports. "It was in this felony solicitation".

Recent studies have found that compliance with medication schedules all but eliminates the risk of transmission of HIV.

Sen. Scott Wiener said in a statement that "Today California took a major step toward treating HIV as a public health issue, instead of treating people living with HIV as criminals".

In addition to the organizations sponsoring the bill, SB 239 was supported by CHCR members including the Los Angeles LGBT Center, the Los Angeles HIV Law and Policy Project, the Transgender Law Center, Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), the Free Speech Coalition and the Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP).

Knowingly transmitting other communicable diseases, including other sexually transmitted diseases such as herpes and hepatitis, are charged as misdemeanors under California state law.

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