As a global organization dedicated to health as a human right, to social justice, and to individual autonomy and choice, AVAC condemns the decision by a federal judge in Texas who ruled in favor of a historically homophobic, misogynistic, and discriminatory plaintiff. A conservative activist sued on behalf of a Texas company claiming that adhering to a provision of the Affordable Care Act requiring employers to provide coverage for HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) drugs violates their religious rights.
“This shocking ruling defies evidence, logic, public health and human rights and sets back enormous progress made in the fight to end the HIV epidemic in the US and globally,” said Mitchell Warren, AVAC’s executive director. “It is a blatantly homophobic and misogynistic ruling that will endanger the lives of many gay men and others who rely on PrEP to protect themselves from HIV.”
“This ruling is the latest blow in a campaign to roll back bodily autonomy and human rights for a wide swathe of the American people. The Supreme Court overturning of Roe v. Wade earlier this year was a wake-up call that individual rights are under attack by the far right,” Warren added. “This decision likely won’t be the last we see in a campaign to impose some individuals’ religious beliefs on the broader population. Access to contraception, vaccinations, routine health screenings, prevention services and patient privacy are all under attack.”
While this latest decision is for now limited to the Northern District of Texas, it has ramifications for the rest of the country and for global programs to provide PrEP to people of all genders and sexual orientations who need and want to use it. These kinds of decisions often test the ground for cases that go to the Supreme Court, where the current makeup of the court means such a decision may be upheld and even expanded upon nationally.
“Deciding to use PrEP is a decision between an individual and their healthcare provider, no one else. Another person’s religious beliefs have no place in determining the right to use a safe, highly effective, FDA-approved, life-saving drug,” said Suraj Madoori, AVAC’s director of policy and advocacy.
“Daily oral PrEP was approved by the US FDA a decade ago and still has not reached nearly all of those who would benefit from its use. This decision throws up another substantial barrier between a life-saving intervention and individuals and communities most vulnerable to HIV, further capping the untapped potential of an important prevention option,” Madoori added.
This decision creates enormous, unnecessary barriers for LGBTQ+ people in Texas, as well as heterosexual women who are HIV-vulnerable, from the healthcare they need and is yet another example of oppressive or criminalizing policies in countries around the world that set barriers to health and human rights. We know these barriers drive poverty, epidemics and disenfranchisement from civil society. Policies like this don’t advance anyone’s freedom to live full, healthy lives; rather they undermine community resilience, individual autonomy and public health.
“At a time when science has given us the tools to advance towards the end the HIV epidemic and rational evidence-based public health policies and programs can implement those tools to save millions of lives around the world, one judge’s biased and discriminatory decision could endanger programs and lives far beyond northern Texas,” Warren added. “As advocates, activists and citizens, we at AVAC stand in solidarity with those whom this decision affects. We firmly believe that the ruling must be called out as homophobic and dangerous and that every effort must be made to ensure that it does not stand.”
About AVAC: Founded in 1995, AVAC is a non-profit organization that uses education, policy analysis, advocacy and a network of global collaborations to accelerate the ethical development and global delivery of HIV prevention options as part of a comprehensive response to the pandemic. Follow AVAC on Twitter @HIVpxresearch and find more at www.avac.org and www.prepwatch.org.