Biden Admin Issues Final Rule Tightening Abortion Record Access In Investigations

Photo edit of President Biden. Credit: Alexander J. Williams III/Pop Acta.
Photo edit of President Biden. Credit: Alexander J. Williams III/Pop Acta.

President Joe Biden’s Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced a new rule on Monday cracking down on prosecutors’ ability to obtain abortion records.

The rule strengthens a 1996 privacy law, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), by providing protections for those seeking an abortion, as well as those who perform the procedure, according to a HHS press release. The new provision takes aim at the various red states that have imposed abortion restrictions since the overturning of Roe v. Wade in 2022.

“Many Americans are scared their private medical information will be being shared, misused, and disclosed without permission,” HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement. “This has a chilling effect on women visiting a doctor, picking up a prescription from a pharmacy, or taking other necessary actions to support their health.”

“The Biden-Harris Administration is providing stronger protections to people seeking lawful reproductive health care regardless of whether the care is in their home state or if they must cross state lines to get it. With reproductive health under attack by some lawmakers, these protections are more important than ever,” Becerra added.

The Biden administration first announced its plans in April 2023 to help protect women who are traveling out of state for an abortion from investigation. HIPAA had allowed for the disclosure of some health information to law enforcement officials.

Melanie Fontes Rainer, director of the HHS’ Office for Civil Rights, said that following the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision, health care providers have voiced concerns over whether the records of their patients who travel to see them will be requested.

“Patients and providers are scared, and it impedes their ability to get and to provide accurate information and access safe and legal health care,” Fontes Rainer said in a statement. “Today’s rule prohibits the use of protected health information for seeking or providing lawful reproductive health care and helps maintain and improve patient-provider trust that will lead to improved health outcomes and protect patient privacy.”

The rule follows an Arizona Supreme Court decision allowing an 1864 law to take effect that prohibits abortion in all cases except for when the life of the mother is at risk. Abortion will likely be on the ballot in the battleground state this fall, potentially joining Florida, New York and Maryland.

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