California Governor Signs Package Of Bills To Improve Abortion Patient Privacy

The state of California has improved safeguards for those seeking birth control and abortion services. California Governor Gavin Newson, has signed a package of bills that forbid healthcare providers from disclosing patients’ medical information in response to subpoenas and requests form outside the state. The bill comes following the United States Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization which removed women’s federal right to obtain an abortion, leaving the decsion up to the individual state. Several states had trigger laws in place whereby, in the event of the overruling of Dobbs v. Jackson, abortion would be immediately prohibited. Significant concerns have been raised as women who seek abortions out-of-state may be subject to criminal investigations.

Following the Supreme Court’s decision, the HHS issued guidance to healthcare providers detailing their requirements. HIPAA requires healthcare providers to disclose PHI to law enforcement in support of criminal investigations in certain circumstances. However, the HHS’ guidance states that healthcare providers are not required to disclose the PHI of women seeking abortions to law enforcement. HIPAA laws allow states to establish stricter rules than the minimum standards of the HIPAA Privacy Rules to protect the privacy of their constituents. The AB 2091 will ensure the PHI of women who seek abortion services cannot be legally disclosed to out-of-state law enforcement in California. Governor Newson also signed bill AB 1242 which prevents California corporations from disclosing PHI to outside state law enforcement relating to abortions. 

In addition, bill AB 2223 has been enacted into legislation to prevent pregnancy loss from being regarded as a crime. The proposed law forbids civil or criminal liability for prenatal or obstetrical causes of miscarriage, stillbirth, abortion, or perinatal death. Finally, bills SB 523 and SB 1375 have been introduced to strengthen patient privacy. SB 523 extends access to birth control by forcing health plans to provide free over-the-counter birth control regardless of a person’s gender or level of health insurance, and it outlaws discrimination in the workplace based on reproductive health decisions. SB 1375 increases the training options accessible to Certified Nurse Midwives and Nurse Practitioners for the purpose of providing aspiration-based abortion treatment.