Human Exceptionalism

New Jersey Legislation to Require HIV Testing of All Mothers, Babies

Legislation soon to be introduced in New Jersey would require HIV testing for all mothers and babies. Good. AIDS has been treated as a political disease rather than an urgent matter of public health for far too long.

Back in 2001, I wrote “Privacy that Kills” in the Weekly Standard about the difficulties that New York Assemblywoman Nettie Meyersohn, a feminist Democrat, had in getting the “Baby AIDS” bill passed, requiring all newborns to be tested. The link is for subscribers only, but here is a sampling of what I wrote:

The fight over Mayersohn’s “Baby AIDS” bill was a real donnybrook. Movement feminists, gay activists, ACLU types, some physicians, and legislative colleagues unleashed a near-hysterical hue and cry. Mayersohn became a pariah, turned on angrily by former political allies and friends. “After I introduced the legislation, all hell broke loose,” Mayersohn recalls. “On World AIDS Day, I had about 50 activists at my apartment building demonstrating at mid-night, going on the intercom demanding to meet…

Even more astounding to Mayersohn was the illogic of her opponents’ arguments and their skewed priorities: “I was visited by the Gay Men’s Health Crisis and they asked me to withdraw the legislation. I said to them, ‘Your community has been so devastated by the disease; so many young lives have been lost. Why wouldn’t you support this?’ And they said, ‘Privacy is our main concern.'”

“Then I met with the feminists. I asked them to support my bill. I said, ‘This is a woman’s bill.’ Their response knocked my socks off. They said, ‘Well, Nettie, think of the potential for domestic violence the bill will be generating if a guy finds out [his partner’s] infected. This is a domestic violence issue.'” “I said, ‘The real violence is getting infected!’ …

Slowly, though, the tide turned away from political correctness and toward protecting the lives of new-borns exposed to HIV. After a three-year struggle, Mayersohn’s legislation passed in June 1996. New York became the first state to require that all newborn infants be tested for HIV and to disclose the results of the testing to the mothers.

Today, the law is working well and saving lives. According to the New York Department of Health, prior to the “Baby AIDS” law about 59 percent of infants with HIV went home from the hospital unidentified to their mothers as having tested positive. By the time of a study published on November 3, 1997, a magnificent 98.8 percent of HIV-exposed infants were being identified and receiving follow-up care.

It worked in New York: It will work in New Jersey, too. The legislature should pass the bill.

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