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Commentary & Opinion
Obama Administration Loss in Anti-Prostitution Pledge Supreme Court Case Would Be "Victory for Health and Human Rights"

April 25, 2013

"No one denies that prostitution can be dangerous, demeaning work. But health experts long ago recognized that sanctions and stigma make it far more harmful," health policy reporter Geoffrey Cowley writes in an opinion piece. "So why is the Obama administration in the Supreme Court this week, fighting to enforce a policy that flouts all available evidence?" he asks, referring to a case, AOSI v USAID, challenging a law requiring non-profit organizations to adopt an anti-prostitution policy in order to obtain federal funding for HIV/AIDS programs abroad. "From the administration's perspective -- and the court's, for that matter -- the issue is not whether the pledge is bad health policy but the narrower one of whether violates the First Amendment. Justice Department lawyers say Congress has every right to choose suitable partners for a government initiative," he continues.

Noting a lower court injunction "has freed U.S. organizations to engage sex workers rather than condemn them," Cowley says "the prostitution pledge is still paralyzing community-based organizations in the countries where they're most needed." He continues, "The Bush administration was notorious for politicizing public health, but the prostitution pledge flies in the face of Obama's usual approach," noting the administration's "widely praised blueprint for creating an AIDS-free generation." He asks, "So why the intransigence? The Justice Department clearly believes it must uphold congressional intent, regardless of the merits. Do federal health officials agree? Does the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator want to enforce this retrograde rule?" Cowley concludes, "The saga will end in May or June, when the court releases its opinion. And a loss for this president will be a victory for health and human rights" (4/24).

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