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AMA Calls for Mandatory Testing of Pregnant Women, Newborns for HIV

June 28, 1996

CHICAGO (AP) _ In a surprise turnaround, the American Medical Association narrowly voted to support mandatory AIDS testing for pregnant women and newborns, citing the reduced risk to babies when mothers are treated.

The AMA’s House of Delegates voted 185-181 Thursday to change its current policy supporting voluntary testing. The change came with the realization that the drug AZT dramatically reduces a woman’s risk of passing the AIDS virus onto the fetus.

When the drug is given to HIV-positive mothers starting in the 14th week of pregnancy and also to their newborns for a few weeks after birth, the rate of infected babies drops from 25 percent to 8 percent.

About 1,600 U.S. newborns get infected by their mothers each year.

``We have learned enough about the disease to know that the differences in those (women) who are treated versus those who are not treated cuts by two-thirds the risk to the unborn child,″ said Dr. Robert E. McAfee, the previous AMA president and a member of the board of trustees.

``We can not ignore that any longer,″ he said after the vote, which came on the last day of the AMA’s annual five-day meeting.

The decision upset other physicians and activists who warned the tests might prevent women most at risk from seeking prenatal care.

``Mandatory testing will prevent people from coming to see a doctor,″ said Dr. Stanley Zinberg, director of practice activities for the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. He noted the tests would not force women to seek treatment.

Zinberg said he knew of no legal mandate in any state for testing pregnant women. President Clinton signed a law in May that would require mandatory testing of newborns if too few pregnant women agree to voluntary testing.

AMA policy is not law. But with 296,000 members, less than half of the nation’s doctors, the group’s policies can influence both lawmakers and public opinion.

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