Shaheen Joins Push Urging Biden Admin to Strengthen Privacy Protections for Women Seeking Reproductive Health Care

September 14, 2022

(Washington, DC) – U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) joined 29 Senators in calling on the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to take immediate action to safeguard women’s privacy and ability to safely and confidentially get the health care they need. Specifically, 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 seek to enforce Republicans’ abortion bans by investigating women and doctors for seeking and providing abortion care.

“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,” wrote the Senators

In their letter to Secretary Xavier Becerra, the Senators urged HHS to take immediate action to strengthen federal privacy protections under HIPAA, bolster enforcement of the protections, educate providers about their obligations and ensure patients understand their rights.  

“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. 

Also joining the letter were Senators Murray (D-WA), Baldwin (D-WI), Blumenthal (D-CT), Booker (D-NJ), Brown (D-OH), Cantwell (D-WA), Casey (D-PA), Duckworth (D-IL), Durbin (D-IL), Gillibrand (D-NY), Heinrich (D-NM), Hickenlooper (D-CO), Hirono (D-HI), Kaine (D-VA), Klobuchar (D-MN), Luján (D-NM), Markey (D-MA), Menendez (D-NJ), Merkley (D-OR), Padilla (D-CA), Reed (D-RI), Rosen (D-NV), Sanders (I-VT), Smith (D-MN), Stabenow (D-MI), Van Hollen (D-MD), Warner (D-VA), Warren (D-MA) and Wyden (D-OR). 

The Senators’ full letter is available here.  

Senator Shaheen is an unrelenting advocate for women’s reproductive rights. Shaheen has long sounded the alarm about what’s at stake for women’s freedoms and reproductive health in New Hampshire if the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. Shaheen previously held a press conference with the New Hampshire delegation and Planned Parenthood of Northern New England to discuss what’s at stake for women’s freedoms and reproductive health in New Hampshire if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, and she spoke on the Senate floor to urge lawmakers to vote in favor of legislation that would codify Roe. In March, Shaheen joined Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra in Manchester for a meeting with New Hampshire family planning providers amid continued attacks from State and congressional Republicans. For years, Shaheen has fought to expand coverage of women’s preventative care, including through her legislation to reduce the cost of contraception for servicewomen and dependents in military families. A senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, in 2013, Shaheen included an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) which expanded access to abortion care for service women to bring the Department of Defense to parity with other Federal agencies. Shaheen also penned an op-ed for the Union Leader underscoring the threats to women’s freedoms and rights if Roe is overturned. It can be read in full here

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