Illinois could become the second state in the nation to fully decriminalize transmission of HIV. A measure is under consideration at the statehouse.
Rep. Carol Ammons (D-Urbana) sponsored the proposal that was approved in a bipartisan vote last week.
Ammons called the 1989 criminalization of HIV “a vestige of a forgotten period when little was known about HIV. Forty years have passed since the virus was identified."
“This bill will repeal the provisions that criminalize HIV transmission and provides a(n)) effective way to make it a public health crisis, as it should always have been,’’ Ammons said. It encourages testing and treatment and the disclosure of HIV status without the threat of criminal penalty.”
Current law allows for prosecution of people with HIV for having consensual sex, needle-sharing or donating blood, tissue, organs or semen. It is a crime to transmit the virus in more than 30 states, even though there are now effective treatment and prevention options.
Texas decriminalized HIV transmission in 1994.
Tim Jackson, director of government relations for the AIDS Foundation of Chicago, said if the measure becomes law, it “will smash the HIV-related stigma in the face."
Jackson says as long as the stigma prevails, the HIV epidemic will continue.
“We know anecdotally that we have people who refuse to get tested because they can be charged with this crime even though actual transmission is not needed to get a conviction or to be prosecuted,” he said.
State Sen. Robert Peters, a Chicago Democrat, filed his bill in that chamber in February, but it has not advanced in the Senate. He said “’When I think about the HIV criminalization law, is it's outdated. It's dangerous."
“Oftentimes when we're dealing with a crisis, with pain, with struggle, we turn to criminalization in an effort to deal with it,’’ he said. He added that “there is the fear of the “other” whether that’s someone who’s LGBTQ-plus, a women, if they’re poor.
Jackson said he is optimistic of the chances of the bill to advance in the Senate. “I think practically to see this change for people living with HIV is this is one way that we can combat stigma. And people living with HIV can begin to breathe again.”