Yesterday, organizations combating HIV/AIDS received support to continue and strengthen their work with one of the populations most vulnerable to infection. The 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the “anti-prostitution pledge,” a part of the U.S. Leadership Against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria Act. The law required nongovernmental organizations receiving U.S. funding for HIV/AIDS work to declare — or pledge — that they opposed prostitution. Most alarmingly, the pledge extended to all parts of an organization’s work, even parts that didn’t use U.S. money.
The case, AOSI v. USAID, was on appeal from a U.S. District Court, which twice ruled that the pledge violated the First Amendment by forcing nongovernmental organizations to pledge to support the government’s point of view.
As part of its defense, the government claimed that an organization could use private funds to help sex workers, but only if they did so through a legally separate affiliate organization with a separate and distinct office and staff.
If you ran a public health organization on a shoestring budget, is this the sort of thing you would want to spend money on, twice? By creating these regulations, the government essentially told these organizations that it valued unnecessary bureaucracy over actual public health services.
Faced with these restrictions, many organizations were forced to greatly scale back work to help sex workers. Work that included recognized “best practices” for HIV/AIDS prevention, including educating sex workers about how to negotiate safer sex with their clients. Some organizations refused U.S. funding, choosing instead to use what little funds they had towards effective HIV prevention work.
Thankfully, those in the trenches in the fight against the HIV/AIDS epidemic will no longer have to make the decision between effective prevention work on a small budget or excluding those most vulnerable in exchange for a government check.