Biden Acts to Block Abortion Records From Investigators

( – The Biden Administration is taking steps to shield medical records concerning reproductive care from being obtained by state or local officials for civil, criminal, or administrative investigation.

Since Roe v. Wade was overturned in June of 2022, many states have passed sweeping anti-abortion laws placing tight restrictions on reproductive rights. Patients with the means to do so have been traveling out of state to obtain abortions and other types of reproductive healthcare. In 2023, the attorneys general for 19 Republican-run states signed a joint letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) requesting the ability to access the private health records of patients who traveled out of state for care.

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 1996 has been updated to reflect the new regulation. If a patient travels from a restricted state to a non-restricted state to receive reproductive healthcare, HIPAA would prohibit the release of protected information for states looking to “impose liability by law enforcement.” Patient health providers in both states have the right to refuse requests for protected healthcare records.

HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra was adamant during a press conference on Monday that federal law still protects the privacy of health information for all Americans. Becerra compared the lack of privacy in healthcare matters to a chapter in George Orwell’s 1984.

The new regulation will operate under the existing “HIPAA Privacy Rule” even though several Democratic lawmakers requested a requirement for law enforcement to obtain a warrant before requesting medical records. As it stands, “certain conditions” must be satisfied before providers may release protected information.

The new regulation does not affect patients who are unable to travel out of state for abortions or those ordering the abortion pill online. Becerra said the HHS is aware of the limitations and fully expects the regulation to be challenged legally, but will continue to do everything possible to protect patients’ rights until national laws change to reinstate Roe v. Wade.

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