Sunday, January 03, 2016

Another Planned Parenthood Controversy

Some time back, Planned Parenthood was accused of selling fetal organs. The organization denied the charges and it seems clear that at least some were exaggerated or false. It was, for some time, a high profile controversy.

I have recently come across another issue having to do with Planned Parenthood. It is claimed that the parent organization holds that people with HIV have no obligation to inform their sexual partners of the fact, that they should be free, if they wish, to have unprotected sex without doing so.

In this case, as best I can tell, the organization has not denied the charge and it is probably true. Searching the web for information, I found the web site of the IPPF, the International Planned Parenthood Foundation. The closest I could find on that site to anything relevant was a piece attacking Sweden for laws that make it a criminal offense for someone with HIV to have unprotected sex with a partner without informing the partner of his HIV status. I could find nothing denying the charge that Planned Parenthood materials hold that HIV positive individuals have a right to have sex without informing the partner.

Oddly enough, this is a much lower profile case. Almost all of the places where I could find mentions of it were politically conservative, the most prominent being the publication of the Federalist Society. None of the mainstream media seem to have picked up on it, so far as I can tell.

Am I missing something? Is this evidence of political bias by the mainstream press, unwilling to carry a true story that makes a group they approve of look bad? Including Fox News and the Wall Street Journal? It seems unlikely.


Steve said...
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Brooks said...

Do you have any actual evidence of this, or merely lack of denial? Because this is about printed materials, so if this were true, it would certainly have materials, yes?

I note that it is entirely plausible that an organization like PP might lobby against criminalization of knowingly having sex while HIV positive without disclosing it (and, of course, it is entirely plausible that an organization such as the one that you quote might intentionally or unintentionally consider this as considering it acceptable behavior). Such laws provide a strong disincentive to getting oneself tested for HIV, much like the laws around knowingly violating patents provide a strong disincentive to reading patents. And, while I have not tracked down the details (I believe they are in a recent article linked to on G+ by A. V. Flox), I do recall reading that the effects of this disincentivization have been seen in actual evidence. And, of course, you've argued for similar analysis of the negative incentives of strengthening laws in other areas.

David Friedman said...

If you follow the link to the Federalist piece, I believe they quote printed material from the parent organization, as do many of other stories you can find with a quick search.

Doctor Mist said...

The IPPF booklet is at

Brooks is right about disincentives, of course, and you can imagine circumstances in which disclosing your status is tantamount to self-incrimination (for instance, if you were infected through drug use). But I see no evidence that this is what they have in mind. The booklet's disapproval of laws requiring disclosure is expressed entirely in terms of the violation of the rights of HIV-positive persons:

Young people living with HIV have the right to decide if, when, and how to disclose their HIV status.


Some countries have laws that violate the right of young people living with HIV to decide whether to disclose. Young people living with HIV can take steps to protect themselves.

(those steps being, know the law, disclose if you must, and advocate legal change).

Elsewhere it talks extensively about the importance of safe sex, tips for telling your partner about your status, and so on. Also quite a lot about how great sex is.

I would have liked to see their booklet say "These laws are bad, but honestly, you do have a moral obligation to inform your partner." I saw no hint of that.

Power Child said...

Are there a lot of news stories in general about whether people with HIV should be criminalized for not telling the people they have sex with?

As I understand it, the groups most plagued by HIV are gay men, poor blacks, and IV drug users (with a significant degree of overlap between the 2nd and 3rd categories). I could envision an editorial department saying "We're not going to discuss this issue because it might incite the general public to want to distance themselves from these groups."

Attempting to be a Skeptical Thinker said...

There seems to be an interesting contradiction in many conservative leaning outlets. Most of them will parade and sexualize attractive women in one way or another while simultaneously shunning discussion of most sexual topics. You've see the "Rule 5" posts and of course the generally stunning Fox News hosts.

As for the HIV topic, it boils down to consent. What does the receiving party believe they are consenting to? A female who consents to intercourse with a male *should* understand they are risking pregnancy and I think this is fairly universally true even today. A truly responsible individual will understand that they are also consenting to the entire sexual history of their partner, which may include contact with any number of potential STD's. A responsible individual will attempt to ascertain the relative danger by questioning any potential sexual partner. In that situation only a failure to disclose known infections would constitute criminal battery. Not being able to answer those questions because of a lack of testing should be enough to warn the responsible person that they are about to engage in sexual Russian Roulette if they continue and should be prepared for the consequences.

I personally lived this. After completing a long monogamous relationship and prior to meeting the woman who ultimately became my wife, I had myself tested for HIV. My doctor was very surprised that I requested it and I still sometimes get comments about having the test in my file. But what else could I do? I realized that I had entered that relationship somewhat irresponsibly and that I had a duty to protect any future partners I might have from any consequences I may be facing from that choice.

I believe this should provide a strong imperative towards conservatism with respect to sexual activity. Is that reasonable to expect from the majority of society? I think that in a truly enlightened and self actualizing one, certainly. In our current society? Not so much.

David Friedman said...

Brooks: I don't think the incentive argument works very well in this context. If you have HIV and get tested, in a legal regime of required disclosure, that reduces your opportunities to have unprotected sex. But if you have HIV and don't get tested, you don't get treatment and eventually die of it. The latter sounds like the larger cost.

If you get tested and come out negative, you are no worse off. Indeed, since you can tell future partners that you are negative, you may be a little better off.

So unless your value for unprotected sex is very high relative to your value for life, testing looks like the right choice even under mandatory disclosure.

Am I missing something?

Anonymous said...

There is argument that you made in your book that availability of testing for inevitable decease makes you uninsurable for it. Follow similar logic, I believe, there should be black market for testing and treatment.

Anonymous said...

If you think that Fox news skews right of reality, you are off the wall.

It skews one percent less left of reality than PBS, and if it skewed two percent less left of reality, they would tear up the first amendment and throw the lot of them in jail.

jdgalt said...

Do those pamphlets even actually address the hypothetical of someone who is HIV+ wanting to keep that fact a secret from a prospective sex partner? Or can they be read as merely covering whether the infected person should be compelled to let his parents, boss, landlord, and/or neighbors know? This sure sounds like the kind of story where conservative media impute an unrealistic evil motive because it sells ads.

Shieldfoss said...

If you credit Scott Alexander's idea of the Toxoplasma of Rage, it is because this is so obviously wrong that there is no controversy - nobody denies that this is wrong, so no controversy, so no news story.

Anonymous said...

"So unless your value for unprotected sex is very high relative to your value for life, testing looks like the right choice even under mandatory disclosure.

Am I missing something?"

Only that human beings are not rational actors maximizing their own long-term utility. Examples are ubiquitous of people avoiding or postponing learning the answer to a question because the answer is likely to make them unhappy (e.g. I have a terrible disease) or obligate them to do something they don't currently don't want to do (e.g. restrict my sexual behavior). Call it "motivated ignorance".

Anonymous said...

Actually, Siderea points out that the technical term is solution aversion.

Hyman said...

It is good to oppose laws which require mandatory disclosure. The reasons should be obvious. Take sex offender registries as an example. Such laws are passed by convincing people that they are necessary and unremarkable; of course people should know if their neighbor is a rapist, and of course people should tell their sexual partners they have HIV. But the outcomes are always horrible; ambitious and unscrupulous public officials deliberately mission-creep such laws, so now offender registries fill with people who have had consensual sex involving an illegal age difference, or who have drunkenly exposed themselves while urinating in public. Similarly, laws requiring disclosure from sexual partners would rapidly be expanded. I can easily see someone who has become pregnant suing because their partner failed to disclose a family history of cancer. To paraphrase Scalia, not every good behavior should be expressed as a law, not every law expresses good behavior.