Bill is Designed to Inform Women, Detect More Infections, Still Gives Freedom to Opt Out
TRENTON – In a move that could put New Jersey at the forefront in the national fight against HIV transmission to newborns, both houses of the legislature today approved a bill sponsored by Senate President Richard J. Codey (D-Essex) and Senator Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen) that will require all pregnant women to be screened for HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus), as well as newborns whose mother’s HIV status is either positive or unknown at the time of delivery.
“For newborns, early detection can be a life-saving measure,” said Sen. Codey. “By making HIV testing a routine part of prenatal care, we can significantly reduce the number of infections to newborns and also help break down the stigma associated with the disease.”
The Senate approved bill S-2704 which is modeled after recommendations released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) last fall. In a September 2006 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), the CDC estimated that perinatal transmission rates can be reduced to less than two percent with universal screening of pregnant women in combination with prophylactic administration of antiretroviral drugs, a Cesarean delivery and avoidance of breast feeding.
“When this bill becomes law, it will allow New Jersey to continue its commitment to protecting the health of mothers and babies,” said Senator Weinberg. “While the testing is not mandatory, it will be readily available and physicians will be prepared to educate mothers on the benefits of testing.”
The bill would require that all pregnant women be tested for HIV as early as possible in their pregnancy and again during their third trimester. Under amendments approved by the committee today, each birthing facility in the state would also be required to test any newborn whose mother’s HIV status is either positive or unknown at the time of delivery.
The measure would move New Jersey from “opt in” status to “opt out” status, meaning women would automatically be tested unless they choose not to have the test. Sen. Codey noted that the move is designed to increase detection, treatment and prevention of HIV, particularly for segments of the population that are most at risk and often overlooked. Sen. Weinberg stressed that the move does not make testing mandatory, but instead is designed to encourage more women to be tested.
The bill would also require that physicians and health care practitioners provide women with information about HIV and AIDS, the benefits of being tested, the medical treatment available to treat HIV infection, and the reduced rate of transmission to a fetus if an HIV-infected pregnant woman receives treatment.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures and the National Newborn Screening and Genetics Resource Center, only four states require some sort of testing of newborns – New York, Connecticut, Illinois and Indiana. Of those four states, none require universal opt-out testing for pregnant mothers.
“The additional benefit of testing every woman is that it reduces the stigma associated with testing only those based on their risk behaviors and should, as statistics show, make women less inclined to refuse the test,” added Sen. Codey.
Sen. Codey’s bill charges the Commissioner of the Department of Health and Senior Services with adopting regulations to carry out the testing requirements, as well as guidelines for the information that physicians must provide their patients on testing, treatment and counseling.
The bill now heads to the Governor for his signature.