Is the Biden administration trying to change HIPAA laws to protect abortion?

The Biden administration is allegedly considering changing HIPAA regulations to protect abortion from states with pro-life laws.

Bloomberg Law reported that the Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights has prepared modifications to the HIPAA Privacy Rule to Support Reproductive Health Care Privacy. Leon Rodriguez, the former director of the HHS civil rights office with the Obama administration, told Bloomberg that the proposed rule was due to “concern over what actions law enforcement may take when investigating those laws and initiating prosecution.”

With the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization ruling, which overturned Roe v. Wade, individual states were given the ability to make their own laws regarding abortion. This means some states have laws protecting preborn children from abortion, though in such states, abortionists — not women seeking abortions — face potential prosecution.

Melanie Fontes Rainer, the current OCR director, told Bloomberg that the Office for Civil Rights is required that non-discriminatory access to health care is available for all Americans. “Part of that mission is to promote privacy and protect health information,” she said. Beyond that, details of the new rule change are not known.

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Yet Roger Severino, who led the OCR office under the Trump administration, said there are concerns about what is being implemented. He said the Biden administration is trying to “twist HIPAA to use it as a bludgeon against the Dobbs decision and interfere with cooperation with law enforcement.”

The proposed rule was also listed as being under White House review, even though it wasn’t previously disclosed on the administration’s upcoming agenda, which Severino said is unusual — but likely intentional.

“[B]y all appearances it was deliberate in order to keep it as quiet as possible,” he said, explaining that this was due to the fear of trying “to scare medical providers from cooperating with police in states where abortion is restricted. I suspect what they’re trying to do is say that in pro-life states that cooperating with law enforcement to protect unborn life is a violation of HIPAA.”

Before the rule can be implemented, the federal government must first release it to the public, and then allow the public to respond. Yet Rodriguez insisted it’s all part of normal political practice.

“It’s certainly part of the role of the office to update legal guidance and regulations based on change in the external environment that necessitates those changes,” he said, adding that confidentiality in health care is of the utmost importance. “I would be very motivated to use all my legal authority to protect all the confidentialities of that information.”

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