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Dems want a stricter HIPAA privacy law for patients who have abortions

Senate Democrats are pleading with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to make abortion patients' federal health privacy safeguards stronger.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and 29 of her colleagues wrote to HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra on September 13 to urge him to take additional steps to safeguard the privacy of abortion patients in light of the recent Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, which gives states more discretion to determine access to the procedure.

Abortion is now illegal in several areas, making it a crime to get the procedure or perform it.

"To protect patients, and their providers, from having their health information weaponized against them, we urge you to take immediate action to strengthen education on and enforcement of federal health privacy protections and to initiate the rulemaking process to augment privacy protections under Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) regulations," the letter said. 

The Democratic senators stated that "stakeholders have told us about providers who have felt uncertain about whether they must turn over personal health information to state and law enforcement officials, including cases where providers believed they had to turn over information when doing so is only permitted—but not required—under the HIPAA Privacy Rule."

According to the letter, the HHS ought to amend the HIPAA Privacy Rule to "broadly restrict regulated entities from sharing individuals' reproductive health information without explicit consent, particularly for law enforcement, civil, or criminal proceedings premised on the provision of abortion care."

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) presented legislation that would make it generally illegal for women to get abortions in the United States beyond 15 weeks of pregnancy on the same day the Democratic senators released their letter.

Becerra has made it plain that he supports access to abortion, just like President Joe Biden. But it is unclear if he will agree to create new regulations to allay the senators' HIPAA worries.

Becerra cited guidelines the HHS Office for Civil Rights released on June 29 to explain current HIPAA safeguards for abortion patients in a statement he made in response to Graham's measure.

"The extent to which federal law and regulations protect individuals’ private medical information when seeking abortion," even when utilizing apps on cellphones, is explained in that advisory, Becerra said.

"The Biden-Harris administration will vigorously advance and protect women’s rights to essential healthcare. We won’t hesitate to enforce the law," Becerra stated.

In their letter, the Democratic senators praised HHS for the advice issued on June 29, but they claimed it fell short of protecting health information connected to abortions.

"Our nation faces a crisis in access to reproductive health services, and some states have already begun to investigate and punish women seeking abortion care. It is critical that HHS take all available action to fully protect women’s privacy and their ability to safely and confidentially seek medical care," according to the letter.

A request for comment from Becerra received no response.



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