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Physicians in abortion-restrictive states who care for pregnant women who become ill are facing new challenges as they try to meet their patients’ needs while avoiding criminal prosecution on the one hand or civil litigation if there is a bad outcome, especially when care is affected by the threat of vague statutes, on the other. All these legal actions will occur in the public eye. Unfortunately, the proposed changes to HIPAA do not protect against criminal prosecution when the medical exception for the woman’s health is at issue.

Two changes are needed. The first is amending the state statutes to permit physicians to meet the needs of their pregnant patients within the privacy of the physician-patient relationship. Particularly when caring for pregnant women who are ill, physicians should be presumed to be acting in good faith and in accordance with the standard of care. If and when abortion is warranted to protect the woman’s health, the presence of a fetal heartbeat should not be cause for delay. The second is amending the proposed changes to the HIPAA Privacy Rule to prevent access by law enforcement throughout the United States to information about abortion without the woman’s authorization