December 26, 2007
Today at University Hospital in Newark, Acting Gov. Richard J. Codey will sign into law a measure that will make HIV testing a routine part of prenatal care.
"We can significantly reduce the number of infections to newborns and help break down the stigma associated with the disease," said Codey, the Essex County Democrat who is acting governor while Gov. Jon S. Corzine is out of the country for the holidays. "For newborns, early detection can be the ultimate lifesaving measure."
Currently, the state only requires pregnant women be offered HIV testing. Under the new measure, which Codey sponsored while Senate president, pregnant women will be tested for HIV unless they specifically decline. Doctors will provide pregnant patients with information about HIV/AIDS, the benefits of testing, and data about how much the risk of mother-to-child HIV transmission is reduced if an infected mother receives treatment. Newborns will be tested for HIV if the mother is positive or if her status is unknown.
New Jersey has about 115,000 births per year, and it had seven infants born with HIV in 2005, state health figures show.
The American Civil Liberties Union and some women's groups contend the testing measure deprives women the 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 president of the National Organization for Women.
"Early detection and treatment are integral parts of the fight against HIV and AIDS," said Assembly member John McKeon (D-Essex). "Preventive measures like this can save lives and improve the quality of life for newborns and mothers."
The law will take effect in six months.
12.26.2007; Tom Hester Jr.
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