September 13, 2022

Wyden, Merkley, Colleagues Push Biden Administration to Strengthen Privacy Protections for Women Seeking Reproductive Health Care

As Republicans pass abortion bans in states and states investigate and punish women for seeking reproductive care, senators call for immediate action to safeguard women’s privacy

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley today with colleagues called on the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to take immediate action to strengthen federal privacy protections about abortion and other reproductive services, bolster enforcement of the protections, educate providers about their obligations, and ensure patients understand their rights. 

“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,” the senators wrote in their letter to HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra.

The senators urged the Biden Administration to strengthen federal privacy protections under the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) to broadly restrict providers from sharing patients’ reproductive health information without their explicit consent—particularly with law enforcement or in legal proceedings over accessing abortion care. The push from the senators comes as legislators and prosecutors across the country have sought to enforce Republicans’ abortion bans by investigating women and doctors for seeking and providing abortion care. In the wake of theDobbs decision, Becerra pledged in June to work to protect patient and provider privacy.

“To safeguard the privacy of women’s personal health care decisions and ensure patients feel safe seeking medical care, including reproductive health care, we urge you to quickly initiate the rulemaking process to strengthen privacy protections for reproductive health information,” urged the senators.“In particular, HHS should update 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.”

Since the Dobbs decision, the new patchwork of state abortion bans has caused widespread confusion among health care providers over whether they are required to turn over patients’ health information to state and local law enforcement. This confusion fundamentally threatens women’s health, as patients may delay or avoid seeking the care they need out of fear their sensitive health information could be weaponized against them. In recent weeks, states have investigated and sought to punish patients and providers for seeking and providing abortion care.

Senator Patty Murray, D-Wash., led the letter. Along with Wyden and Merkley, the letter was co-signed by Senators Baldwin, D-Wis., Blumenthal, D-Conn., Booker, D-N.J., Brown, D-Ohio, Cantwell, D-Wash., Casey, D-Pa., Duckworth, D-Ill., Durbin, D-Ill., Gillibrand, D-N.Y., Heinrich, D-N.M., Hickenlooper, D-Colo., Hirono, D-Hawaii, Kaine, D-Va., Klobuchar, D-Minn., Luján, D-N.M., Markey, D-Mass., Menendez, D-N.J., Padilla, D-Calif., Reed, D-R.I., Rosen, D-Nev., Sanders, I-Vt., Shaheen, D-N.H., Smith, D-Minn., Stabenow, D-Mich., Van Hollen, D-Md., Warner, D-Va., and Warren, D-Mass.

The full letter is HERE.