The Biden administration announced new actions Wednesday to protect abortion access and patient privacy, including a new Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) rule aimed at shielding women who travel to other states for abortions from law enforcement investigations.
Under the proposed HHS rule, disclosing health information “to investigate, or prosecute patients, providers, and others involved in the provision of legal reproductive health care, including abortion care” would be prohibited. The announcement cites President Biden’s executive order directing the HHS to strengthen the protection of “reproductive health care” information, which he signed after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.
“I have met with doctors across the country who have shared their stories,” HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR) Director Melanie Fontes Rainer said in a statement. “These providers have expressed fear, anger, and sadness that they or their patients may end up in jail for providing or obtaining evidence-based and medically appropriate care. Trust is critical in the patient-doctor relationship and medical mistrust can damage and chill patients’ relationship with their providers, imperiling patient health.”
The proposal would modify the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy Rule, which currently permits the disclosure of some information to law enforcement. The agency will issue a final rule following a 60 day public comment period.
Today, a federal district judge in Texas ruled that a prescription medication available for over 22 years, approved by the FDA, and used safely by millions of women should no longer be approved in the U.S.
Here’s why this matters. And how my Administration is going to fight it.
— President Biden (@POTUS) April 8, 2023
While abortions dropped across the country following the overturn of Roe v. Wade, states where abortion is legal saw increases, which the Kaiser Family Foundation attributes to women traveling to obtain the procedure. (RELATED: ‘Babies Are Being Saved’: Abortions Plummeted 96% In States That Imposed Bans After Roe V. Wade Was Overturned)
“When the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, nearly half a century of precedent changed overnight,” HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement. “The Biden-Harris Administration is committed to protecting women’s lawful access to reproductive health care, including abortion care. President Biden signed not one but two executive orders calling on HHS to take action to meet this moment and we have wasted no time in doing so. Today’s action is yet another important step HHS is taking to protect patients accessing critical care.”
The action comes days after a Texas judge suspended the FDA’s approval of mifepristone, one of two drugs used in chemical abortions, prompting a swift appeal from the Biden administration.
Vice President Kamala Harris is scheduled to further discuss the administration’s response to the Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine v. FDA case during the third meeting of the Task Force on Reproductive Healthcare Access on Wednesday.
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