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Republican AGs demand Biden administration allow them to keep access to out-of-state medical records

West Virginia, transgender, medical care, Medicaid, lawsuit, gender-affirming healthcare
Photo: The Gender Spectrum Collection

The Republican attorneys general of 19 states have sent a letter to the Biden administration demanding access to the private medical records of citizens who cross state lines to access abortion services or gender-affirming care in states where such care is legal.

The June 16 letter, sent to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary (HHS) Xavier Becerra, came in response to a proposed amendment to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), the Tennessee Lookout reports. Proposed in April, the new rule would shield the private medical records of people seeking reproductive healthcare services in states where those services are legal from officials in their home states where those services have been banned.

The rule change is part of the Biden administration’s efforts to ensure continued access to abortions services and other reproductive healthcare in states that have outlawed abortion following the Supreme Court’s 2022 decision in Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which struck down the constitutional right to abortion in the U.S.

“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 proposed rule states. “The threat that (private health information) will be obtained and used in such an investigation or proceeding is likely to chill individuals’ willingness to seek lawful treatment or to provide full information to their health care providers when obtaining that treatment.”

In their letter, which was first reported on by the Mississippi Free Press, the attorneys general of Mississippi, Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, and Utah accused the administration of pushing “a false narrative that States are seeking to treat pregnant women as criminals or punish medical personnel who provide lifesaving care.”

“Based on this lie, the Administration has sought to wrest control over abortion back from the people in defiance of the Constitution and Dobbs,” the letter continues. The AGs argued that the new rule “would unlawfully interfere with States’ authority to enforce their laws” and demanded that HHS withdraw the proposed rule change.

But as Rachel Maddow noted on the July 17 episode of her MSNBC show, when a reporter from Kentucky’s Courier-Journal asked state AG Daniel Cameron’s office whether they had sought information regarding Kentuckians’ reproductive healthcare, a spokesperson did not immediately respond.

While the proposed rule does not specifically mention gender-affirming care, in their letter the Republican AGs argue that the rule’s definition of reproductive health care as including “health care related to reproductive organs, regardless of whether the health care is related to an individual’s pregnancy of whether the individual is of reproductive age” could be interpreted as including gender-affirming healthcare for minors.

“Given its far-reaching and radical approach to transgender issues, the Administration may intend to use the proposed rule to obstruct state laws concerning experimental gender-transition procedures for minors,” the letter reads.

Last month, Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee confirmed that it had already been handing over transgender patients’ complete medical records at the request of state AG Jonathan Skrmetti’s (R) office. Tennessee is one of 19 states that have passed legislation banning gender-affirming care for transgender youth.

Responding to the letter on The Rachel Maddow Show, NARAL Pro-Choice America President Mini Timmaraju described the Republican AGs as “increasingly extremist.”

“They’re some of the most egregious offenders of attack on our fundamental freedoms, from the freedom to vote to reproductive freedom,” Timmaraju said. “It’s not shocking that as they’re losing the public opinion war on abortion, they’re pivoting and trying to conflate gender-affirming care attacks with abortion care. We know that the opponents of reproductive freedom and abortion access are the same as the opponents of gender-affirming care and the LGBTQ+ and trans communities.”

“What can folks do in the states where these AGs are threatening their bodily autonomy and their freedom?” Timmaraju added. “Frankly, the best choice is to fight back at the ballot box. We have to get more activist about removing extremist AGs.”

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