The end of federal abortion rights quickly made a common, safe medical procedure illegal in many parts of the United States and turned routine medical data into something that can be used against people suspected of having an abortion.
Despite being highly sensitive, health data often isn’t as private as people might assume. There isn’t much preventing medical records from being weaponized against people seeking abortions in states where it is illegal. Even though medical records contain sensitive, personal information, most people don’t have much control over the information in them or how they are shared.
Medical privacy laws like the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), don’t stop subpoenas or warrants for medical records data, and under those laws, doctors are able to share medical information if they suspect a crime has occurred. “If you’re in a state where something is just flat out illegal, there aren’t really legal protections that prevent your medical records from being used against you,” says Carly Zubrzycki, a health law professor at the University of Connecticut School of Law.
Most patients don’t own their own medical records.