Calls for HIPAA Investigation into Abortion Clinic PHI Disclosures

Recently, the head of the House Select Investigative Panel tasked with reviewing the trade of baby body parts by abortion clinics corresponded with the director of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights asking an investigation into violations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

It is claimed that Planned Parenthood – Planned Parenthood Mar Monte (PPMM) and Planned Parenthood Shasta Pacific (PPSP) – and Family Planning Specialists Medical Group (FPS) disclosed the protected health information (PHI) and personally identifiable information (PII) of female patients to StemExpress.

In her June 1 correspondence to Jocelyn Samuels, Rep. Marsha Blackburn outlines that employees of StemExpress were given details of the abortions that were scheduled to take place on each day and were also given access to the medical files of patients who would be most likely to provide fetal tissue donations. Blackburn claims that StemExpress staff were allowed inside of clinics and were given official permission to interview patients in order to obtain consent for tissue donations.

Blackburn said the abortion clinics are guilty of systemic breaches of the HIPAA Privacy Rule from 2010 to 2015, while StemExpress used invalid consent forms; a violation the Code of Federal Regulations (45 CFR 46.)

Blackburn says that the abortion clinics would not be allowed to disclose PHI under 45 CFR § 164.512(h) – the uses and disclosures for cadaveric organ, eye or tissue donation purposes standard – because tissues were not being used for transplantation. She also explains that the disclosure of PHI to StemExpress did not meet the requirements of standard 45 CFR § 164.512(h) – Uses and disclosures for research purposes – as no approval form was sought from an Institutional Review Board, and therefore the disclosure of PHI without authorization was not allowed. Blackburn also pointed out that the PHI was not of now deceased people, and that PHI was not solely used to prepare research protocols.

Blackburn stated that no evidence was uncovered to suggest that consent had been given by patients prior to the sharing of their PHI with StemExpress, and that even if consent had finally been given by the patient for tissue samples to be donated, a HIPAA Privacy Rule violation had still happened.

Blackburn also believes that when providing PHI to StemExpress, the data were not limited to the minimum necessary amount to allow the procurement of tissue samples from aborted infants.

Blackburn also outlined that StemExpress is not a HIPAA business associate of the abortion clinics and was therefore was not allowed access to the PHI of abortion clinic patients.