On Wednesday, the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will propose a rule aimed at protecting privacy and preventing prosecution of those who seek abortions.
Kamala Harris, Vice-President of the United States, is scheduled to convene a meeting at the White House with an interagency taskforce on reproductive rights. The Attorney General Merrick G. Garland and Health and Human Services Sec. Xavier Becerra are also attending.
Senior administration officials called reporters to preview the Biden administration's notice of proposed rulemaking. The Biden administration issued the notice in response to the Texas federal judge's decision late last week, which suspended the US Food and Drug Administration approval of the abortion drug mifepristone.
'Specifically this NPRM is proposing to strengthen privacy protections, by prohibiting the disclosure or use of protected health information, by regulated entities such as health insurance providers, health plans and others. This prohibition will be applicable for a criminal or civil investigation, or an administrative proceeding, against a person who has sought, obtained, provided or facilitated reproductive health care, where the health care was lawful in the circumstances under which it was given.' A senior administration official stated.
Senior administration officials called it a "step further" from the existing guidance released in response to the US Supreme Court ruling last summer which overturned Roe V. Wade and eliminated the right of abortion across the country. The current guidance is still in place and protects HIPAA privacy by not requiring disclosure of patient data under certain circumstances. Officials said that they still found some providers 'fearful' of being subpoenaed to follow the guidance.
They said that this proposed rule would cover providers to 'not provide the information, if the purpose is not stated in the role'.
According to a White House statement, the US Department of Education will also issue guidance to remind more than 20,000 school administrators of their obligations regarding student privacy.
After the Texas ruling that shook the nation last week, the Biden administration has taken these limited steps. The limited scope of the proposed guidance and rules shows the administration's inability to take action to protect the abortion pill if the Texas ruling is implemented and the drug is pulled off the market. The Justice Department has already filed an appeal, asking the US 5th Circuit Court of Appeals for a stay of the judge's decision that could make mifepristone unavailable in the United States starting at midnight on Friday.
The White House did not outline any other measures it could take before Wednesday to ensure its availability. After the Dobbs case, the administration took limited steps to ensure access to abortion. But Friday's ruling led to calls from progressive Democrats to have the FDA and Biden Administration ignore the ruling.
On the same day in Washington, a separate and contradictory ruling on abortion pills created the most chaotic and contentious legal situation regarding abortion access since the summer.
These rulings caused a new scramble among administration officials who were waiting for the Texas ruling. They also convened behind closed doors in order to plan a response. A senior official in the administration said that the White House began contacting allies immediately after the decision was announced on Friday.
A second senior official said: 'We have had very close contacts with the Hill, both with members in the House and Senate, as well as staff, with women's groups and health care providers. We've also been in contact with groups that are focused on abortion. We've been in contact with state-level allies, including state legislators and attorneys general. We will continue doing all that.
Harris will repeat President Joe Biden's commitment to fighting the ruling in her remarks on Wednesday at the Taskforce Meeting.
A third senior official in the administration said that the vice president will "highlight the administration’s unwavering dedication to protecting reproductive rights amid a health crisis."
The official added that the vice president would also stress that the unprecedented decision was not only an assault on the freedom of women to decide what they want to do with their bodies, but also threatened our nation's drug approval system and the rights and safety of Americans who expect to be able to access a prescription medication that has been approved by the FDA.
Harris led the response of the administration on abortion rights. She has held dozens of roundtables on reproductive rights since the Supreme Court overturned Roe V. Wade.