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Why Supporting Reproductive Health Is HIV Prevention

By Christopher Ervin

March 1, 2011

This article was provided by Aniz, Inc..

Christopher Ervin

Christopher Ervin

As the Director of Development for Aniz. Inc, my role is to find resources and create partnerships that support the agency's mission. My work brings me in frequent contact with many organizations that focus on the health of women. And as these organizations face new challenges to their missions, standing to the side and remaining silent regarding bills to limit reproductive health choices that are working their way through Congress was not an option.

In November 2010, with support of various conservative groups, a sweeping change was made in the political landscape of Congress, various governorships and state legislative offices. Those elected campaigned on issues of jobs and economic stability. However, based on the House's legislative agenda, the Federal (and State) government's role is not to manage the financial issues facing the country but to decide on the nation's moral values. The House bill, "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act", better known as HR3, sponsored by Conservative members of the House, seeks ways to eliminate all legal methods by which a woman could get an abortion, regardless of reason, even when she is using her own personal funds. I guess the government shouldn't tell you what to do with your money unless you are a woman and it is your vagina. The proposed bill went so far as to redefine rape, so an abortion could only be performed as a result of "forcible" rape. Understanding that rape in itself is any unwanted sexual encounter, by its very definition it's "forced" and to try to define it any other way is irrational. And if that insanity was not enough, it further sought to limit options for girls and women who seek abortions as a result of sexual abuse or molestation. I guess this is part of the Conservative members of the House "family-values" package. Apparently some in the House leadership either sobered up or the female members realized there were some chauvinistic policies they couldn't even stomach and backed away from the most extreme proposals in HR3. However, the impotent, "daddy-knows-best" doddering old men found other avenues to reverse decades of improvements in women's health. The House voted to eliminate funding that support organizations such as Planned Parenthood whose programs have been effective in reducing unintended pregnancies, offering counseling to those who are pregnant and providing reproductive health services to adolescent and low-income women for decades.


Now there are obvious implications to what this mean to the millions of women who face the difficult decision of abortion, as a result of unintended pregnancies because of sexual abuse, rape, and sexual coercion. Let alone the mental and physical burden of pregnancy in times of poor health, education and limited economic opportunities. Those who advocate for women at risk for HIV, STI's and partner violence should be concerned as well. If you look at the Roe v Wade from a broader perspective, it bridged the beginning of women having greater access to birth control and the recognition and prosecution of gender-based violence. And these actions are not just limited to abortion. Organizations such as Planned Parenthood primary focus has been providing low-cost healthcare to women who would otherwise not have access to it. It is under the auspices of abortion services that basic gynecological exams, pregnancy prevention and STI and HIV education & testing are often provided. For example, it is through such services issues of intimate partner violence can be identified and addressed. "Unintended pregnancies", especially for adolescent and young women, are closely linked to economic opportunities. It is ironic that those who are forcing the issue tend to be wealthy and just so happen to have the lowest birthrate. Let's examine how this would relate to HIV. Studies have shown that poverty is closely linked to HIV infection, particularly in communities of color. Economic stability is not the only issue; intimate partner violence is closely aligned with unintended pregnancies and HIV. There is increasing evidence of birth control sabotage and pregnancy coercion. In addition as many as 25% of the women who are pregnant suffer increased emotional and physical abuse. With 60-70% of HIV+ women who have been physically and sexually abused, laws and policies that limit reproductive health options for women places them at greater risk for HIV infection and passing of the virus to a child if she is pregnant. Without the ability to seek care through reproductive health centers, these are just a few of "unintended consequences" of the latest attempts to take away almost 40 years of "choice".

Furthermore, as a cabal of men seek to remove one option from women, think of the others that will start coming down under the guises of "abstinence-only" education, "personal responsibility", and "patient-directed" healthcare. AIDS service organizations and community-based organizations must recognize that not only must they advocate for policies that directly affect them but recognize the broader issues within the political realm that do impact their constituents. Just as there is greater recognition that behaviors don't operate in a vacuum but often as a result of disparate conditions, elected officials are now returning to "blaming the victim" mentality, ignoring the barriers they have placed on those at greatest risk. Pro-choice" has always been about a woman having options. And a woman with options is empowered. And an empowered woman can engage in healthy relationships, control her reproductive options and reduce her risks of HIV and STI infections. This is how we create healthy families and communities.

Christopher Ervin is the director of development for Aniz, Inc., a community-based organization with branches in Georgia and Louisiana.

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