Georgia Lawmaker Suggests Quarantining HIV+ People

Georgia state Rep Betty Price

Discussing the high cost of medical care and the potential to infect others, Georgia state Representative Betty Price (R) suggested quarantining people living with HIV. Her comments came as a part of a House committee meeting on Tuesday about access to health carePrice – a medical doctor and wife of now-former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price – offered her commentary as the panel discussed how to best address barriers HIV+ people face when seeking access to affordable health care.

Project Q originally reported on the panel.

“My thinking sometimes goes in strange directions, but before you proceed if you wouldn’t mind commenting on the surveillance of partners, tracking of contacts, that sort of thing. What are we legally able to do,” Price said according to Project Q.  “And I don’t want to say the quarantine word, but I guess I just said it.”

She added, “Is there an ability, since I would guess that public dollars are expended heavily in prophylaxis and treatment of this condition. So we have a public interest in curtailing the spread. What would you advise or are there any methods legally that we could do that would curtail the spread.”

Those weren’t the only abhorrent comments she made during the course of the meeting.

“It seems to me it’s almost frightening the number of people who are living that are potentially carriers, well they are carriers, with the potential to spread, whereas in the past they died more readily and then at that point they are not posing a risk. So we’ve got a huge population posing a risk if they are not in treatment,” Price later said.

“It’s very troubling to hear comments like that,” said Jeff Graham, executive director of Georgia Equality, referring to Price’s remarks. “It shows the amount of work that still needs to happen to educate elected officials on the reality of the lives of people living with HIV. I’m hoping Rep. Price would be open to sitting down, meeting with folks, hearing how those comments sound, and recognizing that’s not the direction we need to go in.”

Price’s comments demonstrate not only a fundamental misunderstanding of the current medical science surrounding HIV, but also a disconnect from her constituents’ fundamental human and civil rights.

Project Q commented on Georgia’s antiquated laws:

The study committee was created earlier this year when lawmakers approved a resolution calling for a panel to investigate reforms needed to address a variety of chronic illnesses, including HIV, as well as asthma, obesity, shingles and influenza. The measure was a watered-down version of a proposal from Rep. Sharon Cooper, a Republican from Marietta, that called for the creation of a Joint Study Committee on Reforming HIV Related Criminal Laws.

On Tuesday, the hearing also included discussion about Georgia’s HIV criminalization laws. State law makes it a felony for an HIV-positive person to engage in sex without first disclosing their status. The laws also criminalize acts like spitting when the behavior is directed at law enforcement officers with penalties that include up to 20 years in prison.

HIV advocates have been lobbying state lawmakers to change the laws to better reflect current science around HIV, which shows that the virus can’t be transmitted through spitting nor when an HIV-positive person is virally suppressed. They also argue HIV criminalization laws add stigma to HIV, keep people from getting tested, and oppress already marginalized populations such as LGBT people.

Georgia is one of three-dozen states with laws that specifically target HIV positive individuals with criminal penalties. Since the laws were put into place in 1988, more than 591 people have been charged under these laws.

And it’s true: HIV cannot be transmitted via saliva when spitting on someone. The CDC also recently concluded HIV+ persons on medicine to suppress their viral load do not transmit the virus to their sexual partners.

That means people living with HIV not only need access to adequate and affordable healthcare to prevent the spread of infection, but need a safe environment to access that care. That means taking away the stigma of living with HIV via disease criminalization and the threat of quarantining people based on their medical conditions.

This is particularly pertinent in Georgia since the state is experiencing an HIV epidemic. According to the CDC, Georgia had the second highest national rate of new HIV infections as of 2015.

That people living with HIV aren’t dying “more readily” (Price’s words) means we need lawmakers who understand both the law and the medical science behind saving lives – including reducing stigma.

You can view her comments here – they begin just after the one hour mark:

Tim Peacock is the Managing Editor and founder of Peacock Panache and has worked as a civil rights advocate for over twenty years. During that time he’s worn several hats including leading on campus LGBT advocacy in the University of Missouri campus system, interning with the Colorado Civil Rights Division, and volunteering at advocacy organizations. You can learn more about him at his personal website.

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