New Jersey: Worried About Stigma, Some Decry HIV Testing for Pregnant Women
June 11, 2007
A bill expected to be taken up by the Senate in the coming weeks would make New Jersey the first state to require HIV testing for pregnant women and their newborns. Unless the mother opts out, she would be tested early in the pregnancy and again in the third trimester. Her newborn would be tested if the mother tests positive or if her HIV status is unknown.
Senate President Richard J. Codey (D-Essex) cites CDC data showing that medical treatment during pregnancy can cut an infected mother's risk of transmitting HIV from 25 percent to 2 percent. "The additional benefit of testing every woman is that it reduces the stigma associated with testing only those based on their risk behaviors and should, as statistics show, make women less inclined to refuse the test," he said.
Some, however, argue that such testing would actually impair care by leading some women to avoid health care altogether.
"Though we may like to think that HIV no longer carries the stigma and risk of discrimination that it did 20 years ago, that assumption is dead wrong," said Deloris Dockrey, who has had HIV for 13 years. Instead of mandating testing, she said the state should tackle the reasons -- such as uninsured status, lack of education, fear or substance abuse -- that may lead some pregnant women to shun medical treatment. "This bill does not address these issues," she said.
But state Health Commissioner Fred Jacobs disagreed, telling legislators on Thursday, "Society has moved forward to the point where HIV testing can be accepted as a normal medical procedure."
06.08.07; Tom Hester Jr.