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Advocates say reforming HIV laws will help destigmatize disease, improve public health

The east exterior of the Indiana Statehouse in downtown Indianapolis. In the center of the image is one of the main entrances to the building, with tall columns above it and a statute of a Oliver Perry Morton, governor during the U.S. Civil War, in front of it. On the street in the foreground, vehicles are driving by. The photo was taken during summer, with a bright blue sky and white clouds overhead. Flanking the Statehouse are large, green trees. At the top of the building is its large, pale green dome.
Lauren Chapman
IPB News
There are several Indiana criminal laws that make penalties harsher if the offender knows they have HIV. Experts say those laws worsen public health.

Advocates are again pushing Indiana legislators to reform the state’s laws concerning HIV.

Experts say the laws worsen, not help, public health.

There are several Indiana criminal laws that make penalties harsher if the offender knows they have HIV. An example: Indiana University sociologist Carrie Foote – who lives with HIV – said that if a person without the disease spits on someone else in Indiana, it’s a misdemeanor.

“But if I spit on you, it’s a felony crime – I face a very serious crime,” Foote said.

That’s despite the fact that it’s impossible to transmit HIV via spitting on someone.

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IU clinical medicine professor Dr. Bree Weaver said the laws further stigmatize the disease.

“Keeping many people from even getting tested and also from engaging in care or taking their HIV medicines regularly,” Weaver said.

Weaver said because many of Indiana’s laws only increase penalties when someone knows they have HIV, people won’t get tested just to avoid legal issues.

Indiana laws related to the transmission of HIV were written in the '90s. A bill was proposed in 2019 to modernize them, but failed.

Contact reporter Brandon at bsmith@ipbs.org or follow him on Twitter at @brandonjsmith5.

Brandon Smith is excited to be working for public radio in Indiana. He has previously worked in public radio as a reporter and anchor in mid-Missouri for KBIA Radio out of Columbia. Prior to that, he worked for WSPY Radio in Plano, Illinois as a show host, reporter, producer and anchor. His first job in radio was in another state capitol, in Jefferson City, Missouri, as a reporter for three radio stations around Missouri.