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New Bill to Strengthen HIPAA Protections for Patients Seeking Reproductive Healthcare

US Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Mazie Hirono (D-HI) introduce the Secure Access for Essential Reproductive (SAFER) Health Act. The act aims to strengthen HIPAA protections; as a result, it would prohibit providers from disclosing patient information relating to abortion or pregnancy loss without patient consent.

The February 9, 2023 press release states, “The SAFER Health Act would help address new risks to patient privacy as a result of the Supreme Court’s devastating Dobbs decision to end the constitutional right to an abortion. This bill follows Bennet’s call to the Biden Administration last year to update HIPAA to protect the privacy of patients who receive abortions from law enforcement agencies. 

“No one should have to worry about being investigated or prosecuted for receiving or providing reproductive health care,” said Bennet. “This legislation will protect the privacy of patients who have had abortions, regardless of where they live or receive care.”

“MAGA Republicans in states with abortion bans have made it very clear they want to prosecute women for seeking reproductive health care. One way they plan to do that is by weaponizing patients’ reproductive health information,” said Senator Hirono. “That is why I am proud to introduce the SAFER Health Act—legislation that would strengthen and expand HIPAA to protect women and ensure doctors cannot share personal reproductive health information to a court proceeding without patient consent. If you get an abortion or experience pregnancy loss, you deserve to know that your medical records will remain private, unless you say otherwise—I think that is something we all can agree on. I will continue working to secure access to safe reproductive health care and fighting for women’s rights to control their own bodies.”

While HIPAA limits what personal health information can be shared, the current privacy rule allows reproductive health information to be used for legal investigations and court cases without a patient’s consent. The Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization has created new risks that patients’ reproductive health information could be used to prosecute people seeking reproductive health care. 

The SAFER Health Act would:

  • Prohibit HIPAA-covered entities and their business associates from disclosing personal health information related to pregnancy termination or loss in proceedings without a valid authorization from the patient;
  • Apply to federal, State, local, or Tribal proceedings, including civil, criminal, administrative, or legislative proceedings;
  • Direct HHS to revise HIPAA and health information technology regulations necessary to enforce the Act; and
  • Require HHS to conduct a national campaign to educate covered entities and their business associates about the revisions.

Bennet remains committed to protecting reproductive rights. Following the Supreme Court’s dangerous and deeply harmful decision to overturn Roe v. Wade in June, he has worked to restore the right to privacy to ensure every American has access to safe and affordable reproductive health care.”

Many states have mandatory reporting requirements, therefore it will be interesting to see how this bill, if passed, would impact state legislation.

You can read the bill here, and a summary is available here.

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