Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

SUPCO Hears Arguments Over HIV Disclosure Law

The Ohio Supreme Court heard arguments this week on whether the free speech rights of people with HIV violated by a law requiring they disclose their status to potential sexual partners. Ohio Public Radio's Karen Kasler reports.

In July 2014, Orlando Batista was indicted in Hamilton County for felonious assault – for having sex with his girlfriend without telling her he’s HIV positive. He admitted in court that he had also infected at least two other women, one of whom passed the virus on to their child. Batista was convicted and sentenced to eight years in prison. He appealed the conviction on the grounds that the law requiring him to disclose his HIV status violates his equal protection and free speech rights. Josh Thompson represented Batista before the Ohio Supreme Court.

“There’s no doubt that Mr. Batista’s behavior in this case was reprehensible. But this case is bigger than him. This case is about all HIV positive people in Ohio. It’s about the burden that is passed on his victims that requires them, for the rest of their life, to disclose their HIV status to potential sexual partners.”

But on the other side was Samuel Peterson with the Attorney General’s office. He said the law is fair because it was very narrowly drawn – to ensure that only one other person would know the other’s HIV status.

“The General Assembly was very clearly concerned with informing potential sexual partners. That is an informed consent aspect. And it is necessary in order to promote personal autonomy and personal agency. It is a recognition that when you have sexual conduct, there are two parties to that conduct, and the other person has a right to know and has a right to be party to the decision to engage in the sexual conduct.”

But also arguing for Batista was Avram Frey with the national Center for HIV Law and Policy. He said there’s a stigma associated with HIV which prevents people from getting tested and seeking treatment. He said the law perpetuates that by unfairly discriminating against people with HIV with draconian punishment – but not people with other diseases like HPV, which is much more prevalent.

“There’s no rational basis for that distinction, for that singling out of people with HIV and AIDS. And accordingly, we respectfully submit that this Court should find that the true purpose underlying the statute is unconstitutional animus.”

But Peterson told Justice Judy French that the law was written regarding HIV and not other diseases not to discriminate against people with the virus, but because it’s different.

“HIV is unlike, for example, hepatitis C, because there is a cure for hepatitis C. There is no cure for HIV.

Was there at the time the statute was drawn? I’m not sure about that, but what is true at the time the statute was drawn is the second point, which is – the primary transmission vector of HIV and hepatitis C is different.”

The state says more than 22-thousand Ohioans were living with HIV as of 2015. As of that year, Ohio reported the fourth highest rate of HIV-related prosecutions for the previous decade, with 59 people convicted.

The Statehouse News Bureau was founded in 1980 to provide educational, comprehensive coverage of legislation, elections, issues and other activities surrounding the Statehouse to Ohio's public radio and television stations. To this day, the Bureau remains the only broadcast outlet dedicated to in-depth coverage of state government news and topics of statewide interest. The Bureau is funded througheTech Ohio, and is managed by ideastream. The reporters at the Bureau follow the concerns of the citizens and voters of Ohio, as well as the actions of the Governor, the Ohio General Assembly, the Ohio Supreme Court, and other elected officials. We strive to cover statehouse news, government issues, Ohio politics, and concerns of business, culture and the arts with balance and fairness, and work to present diverse voices and points of view from the Statehouse and throughout Ohio. The three award-winning journalists at the bureau have more than 60 combined years of radio and television experience. They can be heard on National Public Radio and are regular contributors to Morning Edition, All Things Considered and Marketplace. Every weekday, the Statehouse News Bureau produces in-depth news reports forOhio's public radio stations. Those stories are also available on this website, either on the front page or in our archives. Weekly, the Statehouse News Bureau produces a television show from our studios in the Statehouse. The State of Ohio is an unique blend of news, interviews, talk and analysis, and is broadcast on Ohio's public television stations. The Statehouse News Bureau also produces special programming throughout the year, including the Governor's annual State of the State address to the Ohio General Assembly and a five-part year-end review.
Related Content