/Supreme Court says fight against HIV/AIDS overseas may include policy denouncing prostitution

Supreme Court says fight against HIV/AIDS overseas may include policy denouncing prostitution

WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court ruled Monday that the fight against HIV/AIDS overseas may require foreign groups receiving federal funds to pledge to oppose prostitution and sex trafficking.

Following on their 2013 decision that U.S. organizations cannot be subject to that requirement, the justices said foreign affiliates of those organizations lack the same free speech rights. Both U.S. and foreign groups work with prostitutes to stop the spread and improve the treatment of HIV/AIDS.

Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote the 5-3 opinion and was joined by the court’s other conservatives. Three liberal justices dissented. Associate Justice Elena Kagan was recused from the case.

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The United States has invested $80 billion over 17 years in the international fight against HIV/AIDS begun by President George W. Bush and continued in the Obama and Trump administrations. The money has paid dividends, bringing AIDS treatment to more than 15 million people in sub-Saharan Africa.

Many of the agencies that carry out the mission with government funding complained in the past that being forced to declare opposition to prostitution limited their reach into brothels where the infection is endemic. 

The anti-prostitution policy has not been enforced on domestic groups since it was blocked in court in 2005. The government later changed the policy by allowing groups to funnel government money through subcontractors.

President George W. Bush (C) receives the International Medal of PEACE from Dr. Rick Warren (L), founder of the Saddleback Valley Church, as First Lady Laura Bush looks on during the Saddleback Civil Forum on Global Health at the Newseum on Dec.1, 2008, in Washington, DC.  The president announced that his administration had already achieved its objective of providing funding for treatment for two million people with HIV/AIDS by the end of 2008.

During oral argument in May, some conservatives on the court expressed concern that freeing foreign entities from the pledge could have implications for other areas of U.S. foreign policy.

Of the current justices, only Associate Justice Clarence Thomas dissented in 2013, reasoning that the First Amendment does not require the government to remain neutral on the issue.