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States are passing laws requiring more data collection on abortion patients

States, including Arizona, have been debating whether or not abortion access should be legal, and if so, under what circumstances. But even in states in which abortion is largely legal, patients seeking to have the procedure face questions as to why they’re making that decision, and that’s not something that’s necessarily new. There’s also an effort to require the CDC to track this kind of data on abortions nationwide, including reporting from all 50 states.

Kelcie Moseley-Morris is a reproductive rights reporter for States Newsroom and has written about this. The Show spoke with her about what she’s found.

Full conversation

KELCIE MOSELEY-MORRIS: It seems to be driven by anti abortion organizations who were the same ones doing it in earlier years. And they are looking to ask people before a procedure unless it's an emergency, what their reason, their most important reasons are for, for having an abortion. And it seems to be happening under the guise of looking for ways that they can fulfill needs that people are having, that are leading them to an abortion. Like can you not afford another child or do you not have enough support those types of things, but they're also asking you for a victim of rape or incest or if you've been abused or if you've reported that you've been abused. And so it's this long list of questions.

MARK BRODIE: What kind of impact do abortion rights supporters say those kinds of questions have on, on people who are seeking abortion care.

MOSELEY-MORRIS: So even dating back to when they were first starting to introduce this, they, they called it an intimidation tactic of even if you're not required to answer, the fact that you're being asked these questions by your provider instills a sort of questioning or fear about how they're going to use that data and what they're actually asking for. And the legislation that's in Kansas, which is what I talked about does not actually say that the provider has to tell you you don't have to answer. So that's kind of up to them to let you know if you need to answer or not.

And if you are faced with that kind of questioning, you know, it can make somebody pause and it's also being seen as a way to intimate providers who are actually the ones who are criminally liable for this type of procedure if somebody decides to come after them. I also talked to a HIPAA expert who talked about health care law and she said it was, it felt like it was separating good abortions from bad abortions and trying to put a, a morality on these types of reasons.

BRODIE: Yeah. Well, I wanted to ask you about HIPAA because as you report, it seems as though there's either confusion or maybe different people interpreting what HIPAA requires and allows like people, there doesn't seem to be a general consensus on, on what is the, what's the rule of the road here when it comes to HIPAA?

MOSELEY-MORRIS: Yeah, there, the HIPAA expert I talked to said it's a lot more like Swiss cheese than you might expect. There are some exceptions, especially in terms of law enforcement where they can ask for somebody's medical records as part of an investigation. And that is why President Joe Biden's administration put forward a HIPAA rule saying that law enforcement can't request those records in the case of an abortion procedure in a state where it was legal. But there are still people who are trying to do that,, to, to depose women who have left the state to go get an abortion. They're asking them to come back for a deposition to ask them what they were doing where they went. That kind of thing that hasn't been litigated in the courts quite yet. But there are also calls to rescind that HIPAA rule so that law enforcement will have free access to those records.

And there are some things going on in like places like Indiana where they're trying to make those records public as part of a public record, not attaching any names or anything. But, you know, the HIPAA expert I talked to also said it's not as hard to re-identify those records as people might imagine. There was people back in the '90s when we had much less sophisticated technology who were able to identify certain people from their medical records just based on date and time and things like that. So, you know, people have to be really careful and, and really understand what's happening with their data to, to feel protected.

BRODIE: Are more states implementing rules or laws like this, asking these kinds of questions since the the Dobbs decision that, you know, people have been looking at maybe going to other states if their state doesn't have abortion access, things like that. 

MOSELEY-MORRIS: So the big recent one was in Kansas and that is a state where they had a referendum very shortly after the Dobbs decision in 2022 where voters said overwhelmingly we don't want abortion bans, we don't want to change the constitution to allow them. And ever since then, there have been these efforts to, you know, keep working to erode this type of access because it is legal there.

It is definitely an access point in the Midwest where there's a lot of surrounding states who who are anti abortion and have blanket bans. So that's the most recent big one, but there is another bill advancing in the new Hampshire legislature where abortion is also broadly legal. And there was another one last year proposed in me in Michigan that did not pass. It has also been cited in recent, antiabortionist and the bans and things are not working to win people over.

And so we need to figure out more ways to ask for reasons why people are getting abortions and that needs to be our new tactic moving forward. So I expect to see more of it in the future.

BRODIE: Have any of these been the subject of litigation? Like, has anybody sued to say, I don't think I should have to tell a provider what my reason is.

MOSELEY-MORRIS: The Center for Reproductive Rights and the Great Plains Planned Parenthood, I believe it is, have announced that they are suing over this law in Kansas and they are attaching it to another law that they challenged last year over something with crisis pregnancy centers that is the same type of tactic. And, and that has to do with medical information, misinformation and stuff that people are getting, they are intending to sue and say that, you know, this is the information they don't need to have. And there's not enough information about what they're doing with that data once they get it. And there's a lot of fear that that's actually going up to higher echelons of anti abortion organizations who we don't know what they'll do with it from there.

BRODIE: When you talk to folks in the abortion rights world, is there data that they think is useful and appropriate to be collecting here or do they, do they not think that, that there's really any data that, that providers should be collecting in terms of, you know, research going on afterwards?

MOSELEY-MORRIS: Yeah, they said, you know, from a public health perspective, there's nothing wrong with knowing how many people are getting abortions and their demographic status. You know, how old are they? Or even things like marital status, you know, some of that can be useful to know just the, the makeup of who's getting abortions and where and when, you know, we use that data all the time in, in reporting and, it's, it's useful to know, but it's, it's when it goes into very personal questions that, that they have an issue.

BRODIE: All right. That is Kelcie Moseley-Morris, reproductive rights reporter for States Newsroom. Kelcie, thanks for your time. I really appreciate it.

MOSELEY-MORRIS: Thank you.

KJZZ's The Show transcripts are created on deadline. This text may not be in its final form. The authoritative record of KJZZ's programming is the audio record.

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Mark Brodie is a co-host of The Show, KJZZ’s locally produced news magazine. Since starting at KJZZ in 2002, Brodie has been a host, reporter and producer, including several years covering the Arizona Legislature, based at the Capitol.