Rep. Baldwin Says Purposely Spreading H1N1 or HIV Merits a Penalty

January 27, 2010 - 6:27 PM

Rep. Tammy Baldwin (R-Wisc.)

(CNSNews.com) – Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) said that if a person purposely tries to spread sickness, such as the H1N1 flu or a sexually transmitted disease such as HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, the action should be punished.
 
But Baldwin did not say what specific punishment was warranted, particularly in the country of Uganda, which currently is considering legislation that would impose the death penalty on any HIV-positive person who willfully and knowingly engages in homosexual relations.

“When somebody has a communicable disease, whether it be H1N1 flu, and they go about the public without -- you know, potentially doing harm, or a sexually transmitted disease with calculation, tries to expose others, that is something that I think should be punishable,” Baldwin told CNSNews.com.
 
Baldwin, co-chair of the Congressional Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Equality Caucus, spoke with CNSNews.com on Capitol Hill on Jan. 21 at a hearing held by the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission on “Ugandas Anti-Homosexuality Bill.” Homosexuality already is illegal in Uganda as it is in many African countries. The new legislation seeks to broaden the law against homosexual activity and in particular address the transmission of HIV through same-sex activity.
 
The legislation, “The Anti-Homosexuality Act,” was introduced on Oct. 14, 2009 by Ugandan Parliamentarian David Bahati. If enacted, the law would “prohibit any form of sexual relations between persons of the same sex; prohibit the promotion or recognition of such relations and to provide for other related matters.” 
 
The bill also defines “aggravated homosexuality” as a crime that occurs when an HIV-positive person engages in same-sex relations and, if convicted of this offense “shall be liable on conviction to suffer death.” 
 
The legislation further states that it “aims at providing a comprehensive and enhanced legislation to protect the cherished culture of the people of Uganda -- legal, religious, and traditional family values of the people of Uganda against the attempts of sexual rights activists seeking to impose their values of sexual promiscuity on the people of Uganda.”
 
All of the participants at the hearing were critical of the proposed law.  In her opening statement, Representative Baldwin described the Anti-Homosexuality Act of 2009 as “an extreme and hateful attempt to make people criminals not because of anything they do – but because of who they are and who they love.”
 
Rep. James McGovern (D-Mass.) said in his statement, “This draft legislation – and I do want to stress that it is only ‘draft’ at this point – is steeped in religious bigotry and homophobia, begotten by a frenzy of hate stirred up by whipped-up public sentiment, which unfortunately is not uncommon in too many countries around the world with varying degrees of anti-lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender legislations and decrees.”
 
After the hearing, CNSNews.com asked Baldwin, “It was mentioned today that the death penalty and long prison terms or life imprisonment are absolutely unacceptable and terrible for people who engage in homosexual acts.  And I was wondering if I could get your opinion on something: What do you think would be the appropriate way to address someone who knows they are HIV-positive and engages in homosexual relations anyway? Like what would be an appropriate penalty or correct way to address that in your opinion?”
 
Baldwin said: “I think that if there is – well, first of all, in many parts of the globe, diagnostic tools aren’t necessarily available and so knowledge of one’s own HIV and its status is not uniformly as high in other places where health care is harder to come by than it is in the United States.”
 
“When somebody has a communicable disease, whether it be H1N1 flu, and they go about the public without -- you know, potentially doing harm -- or a sexually transmitted disease and with calculation tries to expose others, that is something that I think should be punishable, and that it’s up to the legislatures of each country to decide what the appropriate penalty level is -- how to deter such purposeful, harmful activity, as well as protect others if there’s thought that that behavior might continue,” Baldwin said.
 

 
“We’ve tackled that here in the United States,” she said.  “I would tell you that it varies from state to state what those criminal penalties or other penalties might be.  We’ve dealt with it not only with regard to sexually transmitted disease, but diseases like tuberculosis.  And we’ve dealt with it at different times in different ways.”
 
Baldwin added, “But I don’t think there’s one sort of boiler-plate way.  But again, I want to acknowledge this issue that health care systems are not the same in every country, and in order for this to be intentional, somebody has to know their HIV status.”
 
CNSNews.com then asked Rep. Baldwin the following question: “Okay.  So in the case of somebody who does know that they are HIV-positive, are you saying there should be a penalty then for continuing to engage in homosexual acts?”
 
Baldwin answered, “Unprotected? I mean, there’s obviously ways to make sure that, you know, there are precautions. There are also universal precautions in medical settings as well as, you know, for those who engage in consensual activity.”
 
“But certainly if there is somebody who is using their, you know, their status as a weapon, you know, particularly to do harm, there should be, there should be appropriate penalties for that,” said Baldwin. “And I’m not going to advise any particular jurisdiction what it should be, but they should grapple with that in a democratic way.”
 
When CNSNews.com posed the same question to Rep. James McGovern (D-Mass.), he dodged the issue.
 
CNSNews.com: “It was mentioned that the death penalty (and) long prison terms or life imprisonment are unacceptable, absolutely unacceptable, for homosexual acts.  And I’m wondering, what would you say in the case of somebody who knows that they are HIV-positive and then engages in sexual relations anyway and puts others at risk: What would be an appropriate penalty in that case?”
 
McGovern said, “Well, I don’t know what an appropriate penalty would be, but that’s not what this is about.  So, you know, this is about people being discriminated against for no reason at all.  Discriminating against people because of their sexual orientation is, I think, is just plain wrong.”
 

 
CNSNews.com:  “So should there be a penalty at all for knowingly putting others at risk?”
 
McGovern:  “Well I don’t think—that’s not what this hearing’s about.”
 
CNSNews.com also asked Cary Alan Johnson of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, who testified at the hearing, the same question.
 
Johnson said, “I think that’s a complex question.  But I think what we have to start from is making sure that everyone understands how to protect themselves from HIV and that everyone knows, you know, that there are ways in which -- I mean, I always start from the premise that anyone that I engage in a sexual encounter with may or may not be HIV-positive.”
 
 “So it’s my responsibility to protect myself,” Johnson said.  “I’m conscious of the fact that everyone’s not in the position where they can make those kinds of choices, that sometimes, women in particular, often sex-workers, don’t have complete agency around when they have sex and who they have sex with, so I do think, you know, that there needs to be greater education of individuals, there needs to be counseling for people.”
 
“I am personally, and my organization is opposed to legislation that criminalizes transmission of HIV because our experience is that it really doesn’t work – and it’s not an effective way of preventing HIV transmission,” Johnson said.
 
CNSNews.com also asked Johnson, “All right.  So do you think there should be any penalty at all for somebody who knows that they are infected and continues to put others at risk?”
 
Johnson answered, “I don’t know that I have an answer.  But what I do know is that what we think is the best approach is counseling and education so that someone who is HIV-positive and, you know, doesn’t have the emotional capacity to be able to deal with it, can go and get the help that they need.”
 

 
The hearing was sponsored by the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission.  Participants included Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Karl Wycoff; Julius Kaggwa of the Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitution Law in Uganda; Cary Alan Johnson of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission; Kapya Kaoma of Political Research Associates; and Christine Lubinski of the HIV Medicine Association and Infectious Diseases Society of America.
 
A transcript of the exchanges between CNSNews.com and the participants at the hearing follows below:
 
CNSNews.com:  “It was mentioned today that the death penalty and long prison terms or life imprisonment are absolutely unacceptable and terrible for people who engage in homosexual acts.  And I was wondering if I could get your opinion on something.  Like, what would you—what do you think would be the appropriate way to address someone who knows they are HIV-positive and engages in homosexual relations anyway?  Like, what would be an appropriate penalty or a correct way to address that in your opinion?”
 
Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.):  “I think that—if there is—well first of all, in many parts of the globe, diagnostic tools aren’t necessarily available and so knowledge of one’s own HIV and its status is not uniformly as high in other places where health care is harder to come by than it is in the U.S.  When somebody has a communicable disease whether it be H1N1 flu, and they go about the public without, you know—potentially doing harm, or a sexually transmitted disease with calculation, tries to expose others, that is something that I think should be punishable and that it’s up to the legislatures of each country to decide what the appropriate penalty level is—how to deter such purposeful, harmful activity as well as protect others if there’s thought that that behavior might continue.”
 
Baldwin: “We’ve tackled that here in the U.S.  I would tell you that it varies from state to state what those criminal penalties or other penalties might be.  We’ve dealt with it not only with regard to sexually-transmitted disease, but diseases like tuberculosis.  And we’ve dealt with it at different times in different ways.  But I don’t think there’s one sort of boiler- plate way.  But again, I want to acknowledge this issue that health care systems are not the same in every country, and in order for this to be intentional, somebody has to know their HIV status.”
 
CNSNews.com:  “Okay.  So in the case of somebody who does know that they are HIV-positive, are you saying that there should be a penalty then for continuing to engage in homosexual acts?”
 
Baldwin:  “Unprotected? I mean, there’s obviously ways to make sure that, you know, there are precautions—there are also universal precautions in medical settings as well as, you know, for those who engage in consensual activity.  But certainly if there is somebody who is using their, you know, their status as a weapon, you know, particularly to do harm, there should be, there should be appropriate penalties for that.  And I’m not going to advise any particular jurisdiction what it should be, but they should grapple with that in a democratic way.”
 
CNSNews.com:  “It was mentioned that that the death penalty (and) long prison terms or life imprisonment are unacceptable, absolutely unacceptable, for homosexual acts.  And I’m wondering, what would you say in the case of somebody who knows that they are HIV-positive and then engages in homosexual relations anyway and puts others at risk—what would be an appropriate penalty in that case?”
 
Rep. James McGovern (D-Mass.):  “Well, I don’t know what an appropriate penalty would be, but that’s not what this is about.  So, you know, this is about people being discriminated against for no reason at all.  Discriminating against people because of their sexual orientation is, I think, is just plain wrong.”
 
CNSNews.com:  “So should there be a penalty at all for knowingly putting others at risk?”
 
McGovern:  “Well I don’t think—that’s not what this hearing’s about.”
 
CNSNews.com: “It was mentioned today that the death penalty and prison terms – really long or life prison terms – are just unacceptable ways of handling homosexual acts, I’m wondering what do you think of in the case of somebody who knows they are HIV-positive and continues to engage in sexual acts anyway, thereby putting others at risk, what would be an appropriate penalty or way to address somebody in that instance?”
 
Cary Alan Johnson:  “I think that’s a complex question.  But I think what we have to start from is making sure that everyone understands how to protect themselves from HIV and that everyone knows, you know, that there are ways in which, I mean, I always start from the premise that anyone that I engage in (a) sexual encounter with may or may not be HIV-positive.”
 
 Johnson: “So it’s my responsibility to protect myself. I’m conscious of the fact that everyone’s not in the position where they can make those kinds of choices, that sometimes women in particular, often sex-workers, don’t have complete agency around when they have sex and who they have sex with, so I do think, you know, that there needs to be greater education of individuals, there needs to be counseling for people.”
 
Johnson: “I am personally, and my organization is opposed to legislation that criminalizes transmission of HIV because our experience is that it really doesn’t work – and it’s not an effective way of preventing HIV transmission,”
 
CNSNews.com:  “All right.  So do you think there should be any penalty at all for somebody who knows that they are infected and continues to put others at risk?”
 
Johnson: “I don’t know that I have an answer.  But what I do know is that what we think is the best approach is counseling and education so that someone who is HIV-positive and, you know, doesn’t have the emotional capacity to be able to deal with it, can go and get the help that they need.”