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Illinois considers requiring HIV tests for newborns
January 20, 2006, 7:37 AM EST
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- State lawmakers are considering legislation that would require HIV testing for every newborn baby regardless of the mother's consent.
The bill approved Thursday by the House Human Services Committee is supported by the Illinois Department of Public Health, which came out against mandatory testing in 2003 when the Legislature passed a voluntary HIV testing program.
Proposed by state Rep. Mary Flowers, D-Chicago, the legislation's only exception is if the mother objects on religious grounds. The committee approved the bill 9-3, but still asked Flowers to hold it for additional changes.
Dr. Ram Yogev, a pediatrician at Children's Memorial Hospital, said immediate drug treatment for a newborn exposed to HIV may prevent the child from becoming infected.
"There's a very small number of children for whom (mandatory testing) is the last chance," Yogev said, but "who are we to decide how small a number is too small?"
Opponents argue testing newborns could divulge women's HIV status against their will.
"When you test a newborn, you're only testing for the mother's antibodies," said Ann Fisher of the AIDS Legal Council of Chicago. "This makes a mockery of the whole notion of voluntary testing for pregnant women."
Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines say HIV testing "should be voluntary and free of coercion." New York and Connecticut are the only states that now require testing of infants.
Officials say Illinois' voluntary testing program implemented in August 2004 has meant that 98 percent of mothers know whether they have HIV before they leave the hospital, up from 72 percent at the start of the program.
The task force monitoring the voluntary program, Perinatal Rapid Testing Implementation in Illinois, said only 1.9 percent of 13,205 babies born in the state last month went untested.
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