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California Legislature Passes Bill Prohibiting the Sharing of Information About Abortions

The Californian legislature has passed a bill (AB-1242) that prohibits companies in the state from complying with warrants from other states that seek access to information about individuals seeking or providing abortions.

The decision of the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade removed the federal right to obtain an abortion. Several states had trigger laws in place that made abortion illegal in the event of Roe v. Wade being overturned. A dozen states have already made abortion illegal for state residents and several other states are considering implementing similar restrictions.

There are fears that legal action could be taken against individuals in those states if they seek access to abortions in other states, and that attempts may be made by state attorneys general and law enforcement to obtain information about individuals seeking abortion in states where abortion remains legal. Under the existing law in California, records of individuals must be provided if a search warrant is issued upon certain grounds. The law change prohibits the issuance of such a warrant related to investigations of individuals seeking abortions or individuals providing abortions. The new bill also prohibits local police from assisting with investigations into abortions, including providing cellphone location information of women who travel to California to obtain abortions.

Specifically, the bill prohibits “the issuance of an ex parte order authorizing interception of wire or other electronic communication or an order, or extension of an order, authorizing or approving the installation and use of a pen register or trap and trace device for the purpose of investigating or recovering evidence of a prohibited violation.”

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Prohibited violations are defined as “a violation of a law that creates liability for, or arising out of, either prohibiting, facilitating, or obtaining an abortion or intending or attempting to provide, facilitate, or obtain an abortion that is lawful under California law.”

In the event that a state wishes to issue a search warrant seeking the identity of individuals or the content of their communications, those states would be required to attest that the information being sought is in no way related to investigations of abortions. If any Californian company chooses to comply with any such request, the state attorney general would be permitted to sue the company for a violation of state law.

The bill no awaits the signature of California Governor Gavin Newsom. Newsom has until September 30, 2022, to sign the bill into law.

Author: Steve Alder is the editor-in-chief of HIPAA Journal. Steve is responsible for editorial policy regarding the topics covered on HIPAA Journal. He is a specialist on healthcare industry legal and regulatory affairs, and has several years of experience writing about HIPAA and other related legal topics. Steve has developed a deep understanding of regulatory issues surrounding the use of information technology in the healthcare industry and has written hundreds of articles on HIPAA-related topics.