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Illinois Poised To End Criminalization Of HIV Exposure


Illinois is poised to fully repeal criminal penalties for people who have sex without condoms while knowing they have HIV and without telling their partners. Illinois would become the second state in the country to do this after Texas. Here to talk about what it would mean for people living with HIV in Illinois is Timothy Jackson, director of government relations at AIDS Foundation Chicago. That's one of the groups that helped spearhead the legislation.

Timothy Jackson, welcome.

TIMOTHY JACKSON: Thank you so much.

KELLY: We are glad to have you with us. Let's start big-picture because I know laws like the one that looks about to be overturned in Illinois - there are laws like that in effect all over the country in more than 30 states, according to the CDC. From where you sit, what has been the impact of these laws?

JACKSON: Thank you. Thank you so much for that great question. Yes, we're looking at over 30 states that have these type of laws on the books. And what we know is that they are overly discriminatory to people living with HIV. They don't do as they are intended. Not one single study has shown where these type of laws have changed behavior or brought down the incidence or prevalence rates of HIV. And it actually goes against current science, essentially because it incentivizes people not to know their HIV status because you can't be charged with this crime if you don't know you have HIV. And so we know that it acts as a barrier to testing and treatment and inflicts stigma and harm on people living with HIV.

KELLY: Is there any evidence that it protects people who might be at risk of contracting HIV?

JACKSON: No, none. It is really rooted out of the initial fears and misinformation and ignorance around HIV in the late '80s and early '90s, when these laws began popping up around the country. And so - and our discussion here in Illinois working on this bill was we were going to lead with science and truth and humanity as opposed to fear and misinformation.

KELLY: Which is a key point to make because so much has changed in the decades that we have been living with this epidemic in terms of how much we understand about HIV and about AIDS. And we should note there are drugs that you can take now that pretty much block the chances that, even if you have the virus, that you could transmit it.

JACKSON: Absolutely. We have over three dozen treatment options for HIV. We have something called preexposure prophylaxis, PrEP, which is for people who are HIV-negative that they can take. And it's up to 99% effective in preventing HIV. And then we also have something called U=U, which is Undetectable equals Untransmittable, which means that a person living with HIV with an undetectable viral load poses zero risk of transmitting the virus.

KELLY: So how will this bill change things, change life for people in Illinois who are living with HIV or AIDS?

JACKSON: Yeah. It will allow people to breathe again, to be able to live their life openly without fear of their health condition being used against them criminally. It allows people living with HIV to not have that stigma on their shoulders and really allows us to be able to turn the page in ending the HIV epidemic because making sure that we remove barriers to testing and treatment is the best way to do that. And at the top of this list are these laws that criminalize people living with HIV.

KELLY: We've been talking to Timothy Jackson, director of government relations at AIDS Foundation Chicago.

Thank you so much.

JACKSON: Thank you so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF SOUND TRIBE SECTOR 9'S "TOKYO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.