Abortion rights advocates. (Photo by Astrid Riecken/Getty Images).
Seven U.S. Senate Democrats questioned a leading Ohio-based anti-abortion group Tuesday about its practice of collecting personal information from patients seeking abortions.
So-called crisis pregnancy centers—facilities that often mirror abortion provider aesthetics but actually provide services to discourage abortion—collect sensitive data from patients. That presents troubling new complications as states move to increase penalties for abortions after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the 49-year precedent guaranteeing a right to the procedure, the letter says.
Massachusetts Democrat Elizabeth Warren led the letter to Jor-El Godsey, the president of Heartbeat International, an antiabortion group that operates more than 2,000 crisis pregnancy centers in the United States.
Six other Democratic senators, including Ron Wyden of Oregon and Cory Booker of New Jersey, also signed the letter.
In a written statement Tuesday afternoon, Godsey did not address any of the privacy concerns the senators raised, but did say “What we do is safe, secure, and legal.”
Operated by antiabortion groups, crisis pregnancy centers’ practices include “luring” patients considering abortions who believe they can obtain the procedure at those centers, the lawmakers wrote. The centers collect personal information, including home addresses, sexual histories and test results, the senators said.
Because the facilities aren’t actually medical providers, they are not governed by medical privacy laws, the lawmakers say.
Next Level CMS, the data management system “powered by” Heartbeat, maintains privacy standards that meet federal protection statutes, according to its website.
But as states move to restrict abortion access following the Supreme Court’s ruling overturning Roe v. Wade, sensitive information could “be used to put women’s health and freedom to choose in jeopardy, and to put them and their health care providers at risk of criminal penalties,” the senators said.
A Texas law, for example, allows third parties to sue—and win a cash award from—anyone who helps a patient obtain an abortion.
“Heartbeat International—which is explicitly opposed to abortion rights—appears to be in a position to collect a significant amount of personal information from women about their pregnancies and potential plans for managing their care,” the letter reads. “But it is not under any legal obligation to maintain the confidentiality of this information, or keep it out of the hands of abortion bounty hunters.”
The senators posed a series of questions to Godsey and asked for a response by Oct. 3.
The questions included what information Heartbeat International collects from patients, what privacy standards the organization is subject to, what internal guidelines were in place to protect sensitive patient information and if law enforcement had ever sought individual data.
A larger group of Democratic senators asked the U.S. Health and Human Services Department last week to strengthen privacy protections for abortion patients.
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