At the Republican National Convention in Cleveland over the next few days, the Republican Party will all but certainly confirm first-time politician Donald Trump as its presidential nominee. Accompanying Trump on the ticket will be his newly named running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, a man who has steadfastly espoused the most extreme of conservative principles. That makes him a respected influencer within Republican circles, as well as — at times — something of an enemy to public health. The shining example of that tendency is the ongoing Mike Pence HIV scandal in his home state.
In 2015, Pence declared a public health emergency in Indiana after officials determined that the growing number of cases of HIV caused by needle-sharing among drug addicts in one southern county had reached the scale of an epidemic. But the story doesn't start there. Pence, whom you may know as the man who last year championed a religious freedom law that critics argued essentially codified discrimination against LGBT people, was involved in the making of the epidemic long before he publicly admitted its existence. Even before he signed into law a measure that restricted abortion access so severely it prompted the #PeriodsForPence campaign during which Indiana women called his office to encourage their governor to stay out of their uteruses by describing their periods to him, Pence's anti-abortion agenda was setting the stage for a major health crisis.
Before you watch the Trump-Pence ticket officially earn the nod to begin the next phase of the quest for the Oval Office, here's what you need to know about the Mike Pence HIV scandal. (Attempts to reach out to Pence's office for comment were unsuccessful.)
It All Started As A Crusade To Defund Planned Parenthood
The first time Pence pushed to defund the reproductive health care provider Planned Parenthood was in 2011, when, as a congressman, he pushed an amendment through the legislature that would cut off funding to any entity that performed abortions. A federal judge recognized the law as unconstitutional and blocked it, but Republicans in the house nevertheless ensured through other means that by 2014 Planned Parenthood received only $1.9 million from the state — a fraction of the $3.3 million it got in 2005. For this reason, it was forced to closed five of its clinics in the state. Each of them had offered HIV testing and other services.
Lack Of Access To Care Caused Skyrocketing HIV Rates
In fact, none of the closed clinics had ever offered abortions. One of those was in tiny, poor Scott County, the site of a mass addiction to the drug Opana, according to The Chicago Tribune, which users liquefy and then inject with needles. When they had access to Planned Parenthood and the HIV prevention, intervention, and counseling services it provided, the disease reportedly could not proliferate the way it did when the county lost those safety nets. The clinic shut down in 2013, and by 2015, 150 of its residents were infected. By April 2016, the number had swelled to 190.
Pence Reportedly Refuted Other Life-Saving Measures
According to FiveThirtyEight, Pence has been a longtime opponent of needle exchange programs that provide addicts with clean needles to use to shoot up in order to halt the spread of disease. There is a statewide ban on them in place, although Pence did lift it in Scott County after the emergence of the outbreak. Despite clear evidence that these types of programs work, Pence has made no effort to lift that ban in the state as a whole. He's also pledged to veto any potential bill to do so.
He'd Rather Use HIV Prevention Money For Gay Conversion
When he was running for Congress in 2000, Pence wrote on his website that he wanted to apply money from the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program to organizations "which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior" instead, BuzzFeed reported. Yes, you actually read that right. Although this far predates the HIV scandal that would later mar his reputation among LGBT activists and allies, Pence once publicly and proudly announced that he'd rather fund useless gay conversion therapy than combat HIV/AIDS and help those living with it.
Mike Pence is in the running to become the next vice president of the United States of America. Through his strong anti-abortion stances, opposition to LGBT equality, and terrifying marriage of the two to form his track record on dealing with HIV/AIDS, Pence has seemingly displayed a wanton disregard for the wellbeing of the people of Indiana, despite everything telling him those things were probably a bad idea.