Abortion Data Wars: States and Cities Debate How Much Information to Collect

In the fierce debate over abortion in the United States, the subject of data collection might seem wonky and tangential. But the information that state and city governments collect about abortion patients is becoming another flashpoint in the country’s bitter divide over the issue.

Some states with Republican-controlled legislatures have moved to require more information about each abortion, while some states where Democrats dominate are reducing the information they collect, fearing that it may be used to identify patients or to prosecute abortion providers.

“In a country that’s very divided, where abortion is legal in some places and illegal in others, giving where you live or where you’re born seems much more risky than in a country where abortion before viability is legal,” said Rachel Rebouché, the dean of Temple University Beasley School of Law and an abortion rights legal scholar. “Interstate conflict is only intensifying, and data is the first shot across the bow for how to actualize that conflict,” she added.

Abortion rights supporters say they are especially concerned about the potential for anti-abortion states to use data to track patients who travel out-of-state for abortions or receive pills shipped from other states.

Such concerns are also spurring action at the federal level. On Monday, the Biden administration announced a rule to protect information about abortion patients and providers and prevent it from being used to investigate or prosecute them. The rule is intended to keep law enforcement agencies in states that restrict abortion from obtaining information about patients who travel to states where abortion is legal and about abortion providers who treat them. It is also intended to protect health care providers in the patients’ home states who have given them unrelated medical care.

“No one should have their medical records used against them, their doctor or their loved one just because they sought or received lawful reproductive health care,” Jennifer Klein, the director of the White House Gender Policy Council, said in announcing the rule.

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