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Groups ask judge
to toss out restrictions on AIDS funding

Groups ask judge
to toss out restrictions on AIDS funding

Last week in New York City, U.S. district court judge Victor Marrero heard arguments opposing and in favor of the U.S. government's policy requiring that federally funded health groups providing HIV prevention services pledge their opposition to prostitution.

"It's one thing to say you're opposed to prostitution. It's another thing to say there's only one approach to prostitution, and that's what the defendants have said here," said Rebekah Diller, attorney for the plaintiffs: the Alliance for Open Society International, Open Society Institute, and Pathfinder International. The groups, Diller said, have policies that acknowledge the harms of prostitution, but they do not want to be told how to execute their policies.

Arguing for the government, assistant U.S. attorney Richard E. Rosberger said the U.S. policy to eradicate prostitution and sex trafficking was created to reduce HIV risks. He said the 2003 law requiring the pledge was never meant to discourage the treatment of AIDS patients, including sex workers. "Beyond Congress, the president himself stated that prostitution contributes to trafficking and exposure to HIV and committed the United States itself to eradicating such practices," Rosberger said.

After Congress passed the bill, the prostitution pledge requirement was immediately applied to foreign-aid recipients. However, the Justice Department's questions about constitutionality prevented it from being applied to domestic groups until late 2004 when the department cleared it for domestic application. The current lawsuit was brought last year.

In addition to pledging their opposition to prostitution, U.S. groups applying for funds to run overseas AIDS programs must also inform clients of condom failure rates. The law requires the government to give equal consideration to applicants who have a "religious or moral objection" to particular AIDS prevention measures, such as condoms or needle exchange.

Marrero did not immediately rule on the case. (AP)

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