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Did You Know? : The Antiprostitution Loyalty Oath

A U.S. policy put into place by President George W. Bush in 2003 continues to jeopardize the health and rights of women who are engaged in sex work. The “antiprostitution loyalty oath” requires that all groups receiving U.S. funds for HIV and AIDS programs pledge their opposition to prostitution and do nothing to “promote or support the legalization or practice of prostitution.” This policy, which restricts local organizations’ free speech and activities, forces those who want U.S. assistance to accept the government’s viewpoint or else lose U.S. support. The oath was included in the landmark Lantos-Hyde bill authorizing funding for HIV and AIDS, which passed last year and continues to hinder crucial HIV prevention efforts worldwide.

Public health experts and advocates have spoken out against the “antiprostitution oath” because it conflates sex work with trafficking. Everyone agrees that sex trafficking is a violation of human rights and of international law. But even organizations that are helping to reduce the risks that sex workers face—such as violence, police harassment, unwanted pregnancy, and HIV infection—lose their funding if they do not comply. As a result, services for sex workers, such as drop-in centers and clinics, have closed, and many critical projects bringing health information and other support to sex workers have been impeded.

EngenderHealth joined other organizations, as a member of the Global Health Council, in signing on to a lawsuit against the government. Although there was a successful outcome—a court enjoined the policy in 2006—the U.S. Department of Justice filed an appeal and President Bush issued a regulation reimposing the pledge just before he left office. In July, the U.S. Department of Justice dropped its appeal of the court injunction. The Obama Administration is expected to review the policy by early January 2010, the deadline for another appeal. Meanwhile, the policy continues to impact foreign organizations working on the ground.

You can take action now! Write to President Barack Obama and urge him to get rid of the antiprostitution loyalty oath.

Check EngenderHealth’s web site for updates on these and other vital policy issues related to reproductive health.