Schultheis’ stumble on HIV moms wins unlikely ally

After setting off a national firestorm over a series of dig-the-hole deeper statements that HIV testing of pregnant women rewards promiscuity, state Sen. Dave Schultheis may have found himself a very improbable compatriot.

Writing at RH Reality Check, Catherine Hannssen, the executive director and founder of the Center for HIV Law and Policy, asks the glaring question: Why on Earth is Schultheis leading the charge on a critical patient consent argument not addressed by the communicable disease-control bill’s supporters?

The outcry and criticism of Schultheis’ seemingly invincible ignorance and of the larger pattern of Colorado Republicans’ acquiescence to the overtly homophobic commentary accompanying legislation that is not at all gay-related, is of course warranted and understandable. What is hard to understand is the acquiescence of these same critics to the assault on the autonomy and dignity of women that SB-179 and similar measures represent.

From Mandated HIV Testing: Can We Ethically Warrant the Imposition of Healthy Choices?:

A number of those in the AIDS and medical establishments see these [informed consent] questions as beside the point. These women are better off knowing their HIV status. If these women know their status, even if the testing is a little coercive, it will help prevent further transmission, and allow them to start treatment for themselves and their potential offspring. A reasonable, responsible woman would choose testing, and all of the explanations and the technicalities of consent get you to the same place, so what’s the difference?

The answers likely hinge on one’s view of whether good intentions ethically warrant the imposition of healthy choices on people rather than allowing them the autonomy to choose, or fail to choose, what the professionals, or they, think is best for them.

The view that such interventions are justified, I believe, misses, forgets or severely minimizes the experiences that led to the Denver principles, the patients’ bill of rights, and HIV testing legislation, all of which are far more modern than the centuries-old “doctor knows best” approach that the medical establishment is battling to extend to HIV care.

It also overlooks a significant part of what drives the HIV epidemic to this day. Namely, that women and people of color and gay men and poor people of every stripe have been marginalized and left vulnerable by a society, including the medical establishment, that has demeaned them and encouraged the powerlessness and invisibility that in fact drives people to take risks because their selves are worthless.

And so the real outrage, and irony, is that apparently not one person stood up for a woman’s right to dignity and autonomy, and that the only correct vote on SB-179 was cast by an ignorant bigot for all the wrong reasons.

Read the rest of Hannssen’s provocative commentary at RH Reality Check.

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Wendy Norris

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