The Iowa Supreme Court heard oral arguments today or a case that could change how the state prosecutes people who do not disclose that they have HIV to a sexual partner. Nick Rhoades is fighting a felony conviction for not disclosing his HIV status to a man he met online and had sex with.
Attorney Christopher Clark, of the Lambda Legal gay rights organization, represents Rhoades. After the arguments before the court, Clark says Rhoads would not have been able to transmit HIV during an encounter back in 2008. “People who are on effective medical treatment, as a result of that treatment have a medically undetectable viral load. Those people are not infectious and like do not have the ability to transmit HIV through sexual conduct.” Rhoades says.
Clark says the case raises a bigger problem with HIV transmission statutes in general. “They rely on outdated fears about HIV and transmission, and they impose incredibly long prison sentences on people for engaging in behavior that really poses little if any risk at all,” Clark says. The case also addresses the concern that people maybe less likely to get tested for HIV if not disclosing their status to a partner remains a felony.
The state argues the law ensures that people are aware of the HIV status of a potential partner before deciding to have sex with them. Iowa is one of 35 states with a statute that criminalizes acts which may expose another person to HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, whether or not the virus is actually transmitted. It is a felony in 29 of those states.