WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. House of Representatives passed
a measure on Monday that would let rape victims force their
accused attackers to be tested immediately for HIV to give
victims a better chance of getting early treatment that could
prevent infection with the virus that causes AIDS web
The House voted 380-19 to approve legislation that would
withhold federal crime-control funding from any states that do
not allow a rape victim to insist on an HIV test for an accused
attacker within 48 hours of a formal indictment being filed.
Supporters of the bill, sponsored by Florida Republican Rep.
David Weldon, said immediate testing was crucial because
treatment with anti-HIV drugs must start within three days of
exposure to the virus to prevent infection.
"This bill will save the lives of victims of sexual assault,"
Weldon said. "These victims are often forced to wait months or
even years to know whether or not they were exposed to the HIV
With no companion bill in the Senate, the measure's chances of
enactment this year are uncertain. It bypassed the usual
committee process in the House, leaving some lawmakers charging
election-year politics were behind its sudden appearance.
"There has been no attempt to fashion this bill to accomplish
its worthy, alleged goal," said Virginia Democratic Rep. Bobby
Scott, noting defendants have no right to be heard during the
The legislation "requires a person to be subjected to an AIDS
test even if they are innocent, even if they can prove their
innocence beyond a reasonable doubt," he said.
About half of U.S. states currently provide for rape victims to
get information about their accused attackers' HIV status
before a conviction is obtained, congressional aides said. All
but three mandate HIV testing after that.
Weldon said requiring an additional probable-cause hearing
before allowing the testing of rape suspects likely would
result in sufficient delay to "close the 72-hour window" for
victims to receive prophylactic HIV treatment.
"You're balancing the life of the victims against the rights of
the perpetrators," Weldon said. "The better good is to allow
this to go forward and the rights of the accused would be
sufficiently protected through the indictment process."
Scott, however, said it was unlikely that an investigation
could be conducted, an arrest made, a grand jury convened and
an indictment handed up within the three-day time frame. "In a
lot of these cases, the indictment comes months after the
offense has taken place," he said.
AIDS advocacy groups said they had "grave concerns" about the
legislation, suggesting its emphasis was misplaced.
"Why not have a bill that says we are going to provide
treatment options to the people who have been victims of these
sort of crimes?" said Julio Abreu, a spokesman for AIDS Action.