The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services building in Washington.
Caroline Brehman | CQ-Roll Call, Inc. | Getty Images
The Biden administration on Wednesday will propose new health privacy protections to prevent protected health information from being used to investigate or sue people who facilitate abortions, senior administration officials said.
The changes, proposed by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights, would create a “federal floor” for medical privacy, a senior administration official said on a call with reporters previewing the proposal.
Vice President Kamala Harris will announce the new language, aimed at strengthening existing privacy rule protections under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, when she meets with a task force on access to reproductive health care Wednesday afternoon.
The meeting follows the latest setback to abortion rights: A federal judge in Texas appointed by former President Donald Trump issued a ruling last week that would suspend the Food and Drug Administration’s longtime approval of the abortion drug mifepristone. The Biden administration filed a request in a federal appeals court Monday to block the ruling.
The HHS proposal centers on barring using or disclosing protected health information that could be used to identify, investigate, prosecute or sue people, health care providers and others involved in seeking or providing abortion care.
States like Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas allow lawsuits against people who help facilitate abortions within their borders. Opponents of the laws have raised concerns about how sensitive medical information is disclosed in those situations. Idaho last week became the first state to criminalize assisting with out-of-state abortions.
In a document outlining its proposal, the White House said taking steps to protect sensitive health information had taken on “renewed importance” in light of such efforts.
The proposed rule would continue to allow a regulated entity such as a health insurance company or provider to use or disclose protected health information “for permissible purposes” under the privacy rule, a senior administration official said.
But such a request would not be allowed when its primary purpose is to investigate or impose liability on any person for seeking or facilitating lawful reproductive care.