New Jersey Poised To Make HIV Testing Routine For Pregnant Women

Wednesday, December 26th 2007, 7:22 am
By: News On 6

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) _ HIV testing may soon become part of routine prenatal care and be required for some newborns in New Jersey as part of a bill that supporters contend will put the state in the forefront of the national fight against HIV transmission to babies.

Acting Gov. Richard J. Codey was to sign the measure into law Wednesday at University Hospital in Newark. Once signed, the law takes effect in six months.

``We can significantly reduce the number of infections to newborns and help break down the stigma associated with the disease,'' Codey said. ``For newborns, early detection can be the ultimate lifesaving measure.''

The Essex County Democrat sponsored the bill as the Senate president. He's acting governor while Gov. Jon S. Corzine is out of the country this week for the holidays.

The bill would allow women to opt out of the HIV testing if they so desire, but critics contend the screening would deprive women of their right to make medical decisions.

According to the Kaiser Foundation, a nonprofit research organization focusing on U.S. health care, New Jersey would be the first state to push HIV testing for both pregnant women and newborns.

Arkansas, Michigan, Tennessee and Texas require health care providers to test a mother for HIV, unless the mother asks not to be tested, while Connecticut, Illinois and New York test all newborns for HIV, according to the foundation.

New Jersey law now requires providers only to offer HIV testing to pregnant women. Under the new law, HIV testing would be part of routine prenatal care for all pregnant women, and doctors would provide pregnant woman with information about HIV and AIDS. It also would require newborns to be tested when the mother has tested positive or her HIV status is unknown.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended all pregnant women be tested for HIV, though it has said testing should be voluntary. The CDC also found medical intervention during pregnancy can cut mother-to-child HIV transmission from 25 percent to 2 percent.

New Jersey has about 17,600 AIDS cases, according to the Kaiser Foundation. Women represent 32.4 percent of the cases _ the third highest rate in the nation. The national average is 23.4 percent.

The state has about 115,000 births per year and had seven infants born with HIV in 2005, according to state health department officials.

The American Civil Liberties Union and some women's groups contend the bill deprives women of authority to make medical decisions.

``Women's privacy rights and choices are as constitutionally valid as any other citizen, regardless of reproductive status,'' said Maretta J. Short, New Jersey's National Organization of Women president.