Feds take steps to protect abortion health data


The Biden administration released a raft of proposals related to keeping abortion-related health information private Wednesday morning. Some of the measures are specifically targeted to shield providers from prosecution, so far the primary way red states are seeking to criminalize the procedure.

The headline announcement is that the Health and Human Services Department is issuing a notice of proposed rulemaking to strengthen privacy protections under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

“This rule would prohibit doctors, other health care providers, and health plans from disclosing individuals’ protected health information, including information related to reproductive health care, under certain circumstances,” per a White House fact sheet. “Specifically, the rule would prevent an individual’s information from being disclosed to investigate, sue, or prosecute an individual, a health care provider, or a loved one simply because that person sought, obtained, provided, or facilitated legal reproductive health care, including abortion.”

Idaho broke new ground in its attempt to criminalize providers last week, when Gov. Brad Little (R) signed a law making it illegal for a minor to cross state lines for an abortion without permission from her parent or guardian. The law would open up both the person helping the minor get the abortion and the doctors — even if they’re out of state — to prosecution.

The Biden administration will also release guidance reminding various entities — schools, doctors — of their obligations in safeguarding patient privacy.

This is similar in nature to the laws passed by states like Washington to protect its residents from being sued by bounty hunter states like Texas. None of those laws have been tested yet so it’s hard to say how effective this might be. It’s also a certainty that the usual suspects will go running to one of their favorite judges in Texas again to block this, on the grounds that Jupiter is in retrograde or something equally valid. It’s a good move regardless of that, but it also underscores the need to pass a federal law guaranteeing abortion access. That has to be the goal, and that’s going to take winning the House and getting the right Senate majority. And if one of those puny Trump judges finds a way to block this, then at least the stakes have once again been clarified. NBC News, Reuters, Daily Kos, and the Associated Press have more.

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