June 29, 2020

The International Women’s Health Coalition (IWHC) is extremely disappointed by today’s US Supreme Court ruling in the Agency for International Development v. Alliance for Open Society International case, a decision that upholds the application of the Anti-Prostitution Loyalty Oath (APLO). 

Passed in 2003 as part of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), this dangerous and counterproductive oath requires that organizations that receive US funding through this program have a policy “explicitly opposing prostitution.” The Supreme Court previously ruled in 2013 that the law is unconstitutional when applied to US organizations. Today’s 5-3 ruling did not overturn that 2013 decision but ruled that the free speech rights of US-based organizations are not violated when their foreign affiliates are required to adhere to the policy. 

“The Supreme Court has doubled down on a flawed policy that harms sex workers and makes it harder for them to get the information, services and support they need to prevent HIV,” said Shannon Kowalski, IWHC’s Director of Advocacy and Policy. “Justice Kavanagh and the majority of justices who joined him, have taken a decision that flies in the face of evidence and will further punish and stigmatize those who work in the sex industry.”

The APLO is a problematic policy because it has resulted in cuts to funding for community-based and community-led organizations that are best placed to serve sex workers. It has undermined effective HIV responses by stigmatizing and marginalizing sex workers, whose involvement in designing and implementing HIV programs is essential for their success. And, the policy has also contributed to the proliferation of harmful strategies that are counter to both evidence and human rights: the criminalization of the sex industry is the primary driver of HIV risk and violence against sex workers. 

With the Supreme Court’s failure to undo this harmful policy, the responsibility now falls back to Congress to repeal the APLO provision. US global health policy should be based in human rights, evidence, and best practices: none of which are served by the APLO. IWHC calls on Congress to act to repeal this provision and to ensure that PEPFAR and other US global health programs uphold the human rights of sex workers. 

Contact: Cindy del Rosario-Tapan; (+1) 917.715.1514

Photo: Thomas Hawk