August 24, 2007
Spitzer made the wrong call
Despite a glimmer of hope that he might do otherwise, late last week Gov. Eliot Spitzer signed into law a bill (S-6357 and A-9256) that allows rape suspects to be forcibly tested for HIV. As documented in the Update and elsewhere, the legislations hurts rape survivors it pretends to protect by misleading them about critical decisions regarding their health and possible HIV infection. The bill was opposed by major AIDS and women's health and antiviolence groups.
Spitzer released a statement Thursday explaining his decision. "Victims of sexual assault have a right to information that impacts their health, ability to receive timely treatment and peace of mind," Spitzer said. "This law provides greater support to victims by making available critical health related information, treatment and counseling."
In fact, one of the flaws of the law is that it fails to expand the availability of post-exposure prophylaxis, or PEP, to rape survivors. PEP is a course of antiretrovirals that can prevent HIV infection if taken shortly after exposure to the virus. The law also goes against New York State Health Department AIDS Institute PEP recommendations.
Those who fought the legislation were saddened to hear about Spitzer's decision—and worried about the consequences.
Alandra Mitchell, an HIV-positive rape survivor who wrote an op-ed in the Albany Times-Union opposing the bill, was outraged. "I am bitterly upset," Mitchell said. "How can Spitzer try to speak for people who have been raped?"
"We're disappointed the governor thinks the way to help victims is invading the privacy of individuals who have been accused of a crime," said Marcia A. Pappas, National Organization for Women's New York Chapter president. "I don't know how Spitzer thinks invading the privacy of a citizen is this foolproof plan."
Housing Works' Michael Kink says Spitzer simply played politics. "In many other areas Governor Spitzer has chosen science and the public need over political expediency," Kink said. "But his support for the forced testing legislation is an example of his making the wrong choice and putting cheap politics ahead of public health."