President Joe Biden signed an executive order Friday ordering federal agencies to protect abortion access and online privacy for patients seeking reproductive health care following the Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade†
The warrant’s primary guidelines ask the Department of Health and Human Services to expand access to emergency contraception and long-acting contraceptives such as IUDs. But it also calls on HHS and the Federal Trade Commission to take steps to protect the sensitive health data of patients seeking abortion and other reproductive care.
“We cannot allow an out-of-control Supreme Court, collaborating with extremist elements of the Republican Party, to take away liberties and our personal autonomy,” Biden said before signing the warrant. “The choice we face as a nation is between the mainstream and the extreme.”
Shortly after the Supreme Court was overthrown roe last month, abortion rights activists and Democratic lawmakers warned how sensitive health data could jeopardize the safety of abortion-seeking patients if the government were allowed access.
Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) were some of the early legislators to urge the FTC to protect reproductive health data in a letter from May. They asked the agency to provide details of any steps it was taking and the resources it may need to counter the risks posed by the Supreme Court ruling. Shortly after, in June, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) introduced the Health and Location Protection Act that would impose a sweeping ban on the sale of sensitive health and location tracking data.
Biden’s plan to ask the FTC to take action on consumer privacy was first indicated by axios last week† Still, it’s unclear what actions the agency can take in the wake of Friday’s injunction. In January 2021, Flo, a fertility-tracking app, settled a settlement with the agency after allegations that it misled users about how their data was shared with marketing firms and major tech companies such as Facebook and Google.
While the order instructs the FTC to consider next steps on data privacy, the HHS also calls for new safeguards for sensitive information, including under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA. Last week, HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra asked the agency’s Civil Rights Bureau to publish new guidelines explaining that the HIPAA privacy rule largely protects healthcare providers from disclosing personal patient data to third parties and law enforcement.