INDIANAPOLIS — Some Hoosiers say several Indiana laws unfairly target those living with HIV, and some lawmakers are hoping to make changes next session.
“Treating someone differently because of their disease, it’s just not fair,” said Carrie Foote, chair of the HIV Modernization Movement – Indiana.
Foote, who has been living with HIV for more than 30 years, launched the HIV Modernization Movement in 2016. The group has grown to nearly 1,000 members as it pushes to change Indiana’s laws impacting HIV-positive Hoosiers, Foote said.
“If you spit on me, it’s a misdemeanor, a minor crime,” said Foote, who also teaches sociology at IUPUI. “But if I spit on you, it’s enhanced to a felony crime because of my HIV status, even though we know spit doesn’t transmit HIV.”
Foote said she considers several laws “outdated” and argues they unfairly target Hoosiers with HIV, including required disclosure to potential sexual partners and a felony charge for those who try to donate blood, plasma or semen.
“We’re not doing that for any other disease,” Foote said. “Just get rid of that law. The FDA protects the blood supply.”
Doctors say the laws in question largely don’t reflect the science now understood about HIV transmission as well as today’s testing standards and treatment methods.
Dr. Erica Kaufman West, medical director of infectious diseases for Franciscan Health in Northwest Indiana, points out many people in treatment are not able to transmit the virus.
“Someone that’s in care, seeing a physician and who’s what we call ‘undetectable’ – meaning when we run tests, we can’t find any trace of virus in the body – those people are not at risk to be spreading HIV in any form,” Dr. Kaufman West said.
State Rep. Ed Clere (R-New Albany), who requested the summer study committee discussion held last week on the issue, said he believes the current laws discourage people from getting tested for HIV.
“By reducing stigma, more people will be tested, more people will learn their status and as a result start treatment for HIV and be less likely to transmit HIV to others,” Clere said.
The cause has gained more support in recent years, Clere said.
State Rep. John Young (R-Franklin), who was part of the recent Statehouse meeting, said he supports updating the law but believes there should be accountability for anyone who knowingly tries to spread the virus.
“Make sure our criminal laws are focused on getting people that are intentionally trying to harm other people,” Young said.
Carrie Foote said she also wants to see the laws focus on intent and the likelihood of transmitting the virus.
“Just like anybody who intended to harm, whether they punched somebody with a fist or picked up a knife,” Foote said.
Roughly 13,000 Hoosiers are currently living with HIV, Foote said.