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Nessel joins multi-state coalition urging more safeguards for reproductive health information

Dana Nessel
Jodi Westrick
Michigan Radio

Federal health privacy rules need to be updated to protect people seeking abortions, according to Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel and a number of her Democratic counterparts in other states.

Nessel and other state attorneys general sent a letter to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra last week, urging him to act to protect “sensitive reproductive health information against disclosure to the maximum extent possible in today’s rapidly-shifting and increasingly hostile climate.”

The attorneys general say that in the year since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and a national right to legal abortion, 15 states have implemented laws that either ban abortion or severely restrict it. Some of those laws include criminal or civil penalties for abortion patients and doctors.

At issue are medical privacy rules in the 1996 Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, commonly known as HIPAA. The attorneys general say those rules need to be updated to reflect the new reality of digital medical records, and “the heightened potential for the surveillance of health care decisions with the digitization of patients’ health care information.”

The letter advocates “additional guardrails” to protect the disclosure of reproductive health information, noting that “law enforcement will continue to seek the disclosure of sensitive data that is stored and transmitted online.”

The letter urges Becerra to finalize and implement the rule as quickly as possible. It also expresses support for the Biden Administration’s position that HIPAA “preempts state laws that allow the use or disclosure of personal health information about an individual’s reproductive health for prohibited purposes.”

Abortion remains legal in Michigan after voters passed Proposal 3 last year. It codified certain reproductive rights, including the right to abortion, in the state constitution. The Democratic majority in the state legislature also formally overturned the state’s pre-Roe abortion ban, which had been on the books since 1931. Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed the repeal in April.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Radio in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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