HHS releases guidance on reproductive care privacy

The federal government has released guidance on how members of the public can protect their reproductive health privacy in the wake of the Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.

As many Republican-led states have moved to criminalize abortion, the Biden adminsitraiton provided the recommendations to assuage the fears of women worried that their healthcare providers or period apps could release information to authorities investigating abortion.

"How you access health care should not make you a target for discrimination. HHS stands with patients and providers in protecting HIPAA privacy rights and reproductive health care information," HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a June 29 agency news release. "Anyone who believes their privacy rights have been violated can file a complaint with OCR as we are making this an enforcement priority. Today's action is part of my commitment to President Biden to protect access to health care, including abortion care and other forms of sexual and reproductive health care."

Healthcare providers are not required to divulge private medical information to third parties, HHS said. Disclosures to law enforcement are "permitted only in narrow circumstances tailored to protect the individual's privacy and support their access to health care, including abortion care," the agency wrote.

However, HIPAA and other federal medical privacy rules do not protect health information stored on a person's phone or tablet, so HHS advises concerned people to turn off their location services and only use secure and private apps, browsers and search engines.

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