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Aid Groups Fight Anti-Prostitution ‘Oath’ on Free Speech Grounds

3:05 pm in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

During the 2012 International AIDS Conference in July, ACT UP activists protested U.S. HIV/AIDS policies, including the PEPFAR anti-prostitution pledge.(Michael Fleshman / Flickr / Creative Commons)

 

Originally posted at In These Times

One of the few bright spots in the global response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic has been PEPFAR, the United States government’s program to fund treatment and prevention for vulnerable populations across the Global South. But several years ago, lawmakers singled out one group of people as less worthy of that care. In fact, aid groups must publicly denounce them—or risk losing U.S. funding.

That’s the basic idea behind the “anti-prostitution loyalty oath” embedded in the global AIDS initiative legislation. As a condition of receiving federal funds, organizations must adhere to avaguely worded anti-prostitution pledge, essentially swearing to the government that they do not support or promote prostitution. The extent of this restriction on their work is unclear; the only thing that is clear is that federal health authorities have sought to impose ideological views on aid workers in a way that could undermine both public health and organizations’ free speech rights.

The policy has been blocked on constitutional grounds in lower court decisions, but the White House will now take the case to the Supreme Court, which will rule later this year on the question of whether the government can link support for U.S. health organizations to the adoption of certain ideological positions on prostitution. Read the rest of this entry →

Criminalizing Condoms: Sex Workers Get Policed but Remain Unprotected

12:49 pm in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

Originally posted at In These Times

If you worked a dangerous job, you’d expect the law to help protect you from workplace hazards. But for many workers in the sex trade, protecting their health on the job could land them in jail.

A new report by Human Rights Watch reveals how the criminalization of sex work in U.S. cities undermines civil rights and puts lives at risk.

Researchers say regressive prohibitionist policies make sex workers more vulnerable to sexually transmitted diseases as well as mistreatment and violence, sometimes at the hands of the very authorities that are supposed to be protecting them. The report focuses on a controversial police practice for targeting prostitutes: profiling people who are “caught” carrying condoms.

Taking a human-rights centered approach that views the selling of sexual services as a form of work, HRW found that sex workers are often deterred from carrying condoms for fear of getting nabbed by the cops. In New York, Washington, DC, Los Angeles and San Francisco, an item that would in any other circumstance be seen as a reasonable—and responsible—protective measure against sexually transmitted disease or pregnancy becomes form of contraband in anti-prostitution crackdowns. As a result:

despite millions of dollars spent on promoting and distributing condoms as an effective method of HIV prevention, groups most at risk of infection—sex workers, transgender women, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth—are afraid to carry them and therefore engage in sex without protection as a result of police harassment. Outreach workers and businesses are unable to distribute condoms freely and without fear of harassment as well.

Read the rest of this entry →

Under New Guidelines, Cheap Birth Control Pays Off for Working Women

6:00 am in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

"Pill"

"Pill" by Beppie K on flickr

Cross-posted from In These Times.

Washington’s Old Boys’ club still has its knickers in a wad over the deficit “compromise,” but women across the country can breathe a slight sigh of relief this week. The White House just issued health reform guidelines that will mandate insurance plans to provide birth control to women at no extra cost. The measure is long overdue, part of an array of preventive services recommended by the Institute of Medicine for improving women’s health. But the promise of broader contraceptive access coincides fittingly with the debate over the nation’s budget woes, because birth control is an economic issue.

Consider how essential birth control is for working women. When women can control whether and how many children they bear, they can delay pregnancy until they feel they’re ready, and in the meantime focus on career goals, finishing school, paying off that mortgage or signing divorce papers. The “choice” in reproductive choice refers not only to her ovaries—despite the right-wing scaremongering about unfettered female sexuality—it’s about every choice in life affected by pregnancy and sex.

At the height of the economic crisis, the costs of family planning grew more severe, as did the consequences of having to forgo it. According to a 2009 study by the Guttmacher Institute:

Overall, 29% of surveyed women agree with the statement, “With the economy the way it is, I am more careful than I used to be about using contraception every time I have sex.” Those who are financially worse off are more likely than others to agree with this statement (39% vs. 19%).

The same economic dilemma ironically creates barriers to contraceptive care. Eight percent reported sometimes skipping birth control “in order to save money,” and this was “more common among those who are financially worse off.” Read the rest of this entry →