Cameron accused of trying to ‘scare patients out of obtaining abortions’

by Deborah Yetter, Kentucky Lantern

Calling it “a disgusting overreach of government authority,” Planned Parenthood officials in Kentucky are denouncing an effort by Republican attorneys general to block a federal expansion of medical privacy protections for patients who seek reproductive care.

The rule change proposed by the U.S. Health and Human Services Department would enhance protections for patients who seek services out of state if abortion or other reproductive care is illegal in their own state.

 Tamara Wieder is Kentucky state director for the Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocates. (Photo by Deborah Yetter)

Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron and Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita are among the 19 GOP attorneys general — led by Mississippi’s Lynn Fitch — who sent the June 16 letter to Xavier Becerra, secretary of the federal agency, objecting to the change.

“Why would Cameron, Rokita or any attorney general be seeking private medical information related to abortion patients if not to prosecute them for obtaining care?” asked Tamarra Wieder, Kentucky state director for the Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocates. “Anti-abortion lawmakers like Cameron and Rokita seem willing to go to any extent to scare patients out of obtaining abortions.”

Planned Parenthood stressed there is no prohibition against a patient seeking care in another state.

“Let’s be perfectly clear,” it said in a news release. “It is legal for anyone in the United States, no matter what state they are from, to access abortion care in a state where that care is legal.”

Kentucky is among 16 states with a near total ban on abortion since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that had established it as a federal constitutional right. Indiana is poised to ban abortions following a recent state Supreme Court ruling.

Cameron, in a June 19 news release, called the proposed federal rule change to health privacy law an “intrusion on state sovereignty,” adding it could “incentivize providers to break state laws on everything from protecting unborn life to gender-altering surgeries.”

Rokita said the change would put “many of Indiana’s laws at risk.”

In their letter, the GOP attorneys general said the change “would unlawfully interfere with states’ authority to enforce their laws and does not serve any legitimate need.”

But in a discussion that accompanies the proposed rule change published April 14 in the Federal Register, the agency noted that since the U.S. Supreme Court ruling, known as Dobbs, some states have outlawed abortion and added or discussed increasingly stringent laws to restrict access to reproductive care.

For that reason, HHS officials said, it is necessary to specify increased protections for the private health information of patients who seek care including abortion, in states where such procedures are legal.

“After Dobbs, the department has heard concerns that civil, criminal, or administrative investigations or proceedings have been instituted or threatened on the basis of reproductive health care that is lawful under the circumstances in which it is provided,” the agency said.

Without such additional and more specific privacy protections, patients may be afraid of seeking care in another state or be reluctant to provide full medical histories to providers for fear of prosecution in their home state. And providers might be reluctant to provide care or fully document care for the same reason, it said.

“These proposed modifications would provide heightened protections for individuals’ health information privacy under the defined circumstances; foster an open and honest exchange of information between the individual and health care provider, who — with that information — could employ evidence-based clinical practice guidelines; and increase access to high-quality, lawful health care,” the agency said.

A group of Democratic attorneys general, in a June 16 letter to the agency, agreed that more privacy protections are needed to protect patients seeking care outside their states.

Citing a “drastically shifting legal landscape,” the 23 Democratic state attorneys general led by New York Attorney General Letitia James, forcefully endorsed the proposed changes.

The letter notes that one state, Idaho, already has enacted a “trafficking law” aimed at restricting access of some patients to out of state care and Texas and Oklahoma have enacted “vigilante laws” allowing civil lawsuits against those aiding an individual in obtaining an abortion. 

Increased medical privacy protections could shield patient information from those seeking to prosecute or sue individuals, the letter said.

“The hostile and fragmented reproductive health care landscape heavily burdens patients in need of health care,” their letter said. “Reports continue to emerge — even in states with abortion bans that include exceptions for the health or life of the pregnant person — of patients with serious pregnancy complications being denied care or forced to wait until they are ‘sick enough,’ and often enduring unnecessary pain and life-threatening complications, to justify pregnancy termination.”

The Democratic attorneys general urged HHS to move “expeditiously” to adopt a final rule and enforce it within the standard 180 days afterwards.

Photo: Adobe Stock