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Your rights as a woman with HIV/AIDS

Some women with HIV face discrimination. Whether you're being refused housing, refused treatment from your gynecologist, or a school won't admit your child with HIV, you can take steps to fix these situations. You are not powerless. You and your children have the same rights, regardless of your HIV status. There are a number of laws in the United States that protect you. The main ones are the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. This womenshealth.gov section on illnesses and disabilities gives more information about your rights.

These problems have been reported by people with HIV/AIDS:

  • Not being able to get medical care
  • Losing privacy, such as by having their HIV status shared without their consent. (This is illegal in some states. Other states require that your HIV status is part of your medical record.)
  • Losing custody of children
  • Being discriminated against at work
  • Being turned away from a nursing home or assisted living facility

If you think your rights have been violated because of your HIV status, contact the ACLU office in your state, a private attorney, or your local legal aid office. Don't wait. There could be deadlines for filing certain types of complaints.

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Your job

Having HIV doesn't mean you have to stop working. But you need to understand your rights in the workplace. You do not have to tell your employer about your HIV. You may not want to tell if you have no symptoms or don't need treatment yet. However, there may be reasons that it would be good for you to tell. For instance, you may need special permission to get breaks to take your HIV drugs on time. You may need to adjust your work schedule, or to take extra time off for doctor appointments. Your employer is required by law to try to accommodate what you need to take care of your disease. You just need to be able to do your job. But if your employer doesn't know about your disease, there is no requirement that they be flexible to your needs. If you are unsure, ask your doctor. Your doctor may be able to put you in touch with a legal expert who can answer your questions.

If you do share your HIV status, you have the right to complete confidentiality. This information must be kept apart from your personnel files and available only for very specific reasons.

The law says that you can't be fired for having HIV, and that your employer must meet your basic needs. The ADA gives federal civil rights protections to people with disabilities. It makes sure you get equal treatment for everything from public services to jobs. A 2008 law amended the ADA to specifically include people with HIV/AIDS within its protection. If you believe you have been fired because of your HIV status, you may need the help of a lawyer who specializes in job discrimination. You cannot be discriminated against because you're HIV-positive.

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Privacy and disclosure laws

Your HIV status, like all matters to do with your health, is private. You have the right to keep that information private. However, there are certain circumstances in which it may not be kept private. For instance, some states require that you tell sexual partners or needle-sharing partners about your diagnosis. These are called disclosure laws. Your doctor or nurse may have to report this information to the state health department. In some states, your doctor is also required to tell people — such as a spouse — who they know may be exposed to HIV. Your status may also be shared if you serve time in jail or prison. Some states require that your HIV status become part of your medical record. If other doctors are involved in your health care, they may have access to your HIV status.

Apart from these laws, any personal records held by your doctor or employer are supposed to be private. No one else should have access to information about your HIV status. If you are unsure about how well your privacy is being protected, talk to your doctor or lawyer.

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Criminalization laws

In some states, there are laws that make it illegal for people with HIV to do things that might spread HIV. These are called criminalization laws.

However, many people disagree on the existence of these laws, and how they're being used. Many criminalization laws that exist today are based on old, false ideas of what might spread HIV. For instance, the National HIV/AIDS Strategy points out that some laws make it illegal for people with HIV to spit or bite, even though these are not modes of transmission. Other laws punish people with HIV for having sex without telling partners about their status. However, research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that it is very rare for a person to spread HIV intentionally. These laws, the strategy argues, may make it less likely for people with HIV to get tested. People may not want to know or to reveal their status because they fear bias or punishment.

The strategy encourages state lawmakers to change or eliminate laws that create more stigma around HIV, or hurt efforts to reduce its spread.

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More information on your rights as a woman with HIV/AIDS

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Content last updated July 1, 2011.

Resources last updated July 1, 2011.

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