Human APOBEC3H (A3H) is a single-stranded DNA cytosine deaminase that inhibits HIV-1. Seven haplotypes (I–VII) and four splice variants (SV154/182/183/200) with differing antiviral activities and geographic distributions have been described, but the genetic and mechanistic basis for variant expression and function remains unclear. Using a combined bioinformatic/experimental analysis, we find that SV200 expression is specific to haplotype II, which is primarily found in sub-Saharan Africa. The underlying genetic mechanism for differential mRNA splicing is an ancient intronic deletion [del(ctc)] within A3H haplotype II sequence. We show that SV200 is at least fourfold more HIV-1 restrictive than other A3H splice variants. To counteract this elevated antiviral activity, HIV-1 protease cleaves SV200 into a shorter, less restrictive isoform. Our analyses indicate that, in addition to Vif-mediated degradation, HIV-1 may use protease as a counter-defense mechanism against A3H in >80% of sub-Saharan African populations.