Mississippi authorities need access to information about residents who obtain abortions or gender-affirming care in other states, Attorney General Lynn Fitch told the Biden administration in a June 16 letter. Attorneys general from 18 other states attorneys general signed onto the letter.
Fitch’s letter calls on U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra to drop a proposed rule change that would prevent states from obtaining private health information “for a criminal, civil, or administrative investigation into or proceeding against any person in connection with seeking, obtaining, providing, or facilitating reproductive health care … outside of the state where the investigation or proceeding is authorized” and “is lawful in the state where it is provided.”
Fitch’s letter accuses the Biden administration of pushing “a false narrative that States are seeking to treat pregnant women as criminals or punish medical personnel who provide lifesaving care.”
“Based on this lie, the Administration has sought to wrest control over abortion back from the people in defiance of the Constitution and Dobbs,” the letter says. “… The proposed rule defies the governing statute, would unlawfully interfere with States’ authority to enforce their laws, and does not serve any legitimate need.”
‘A State of Fear’
Attorney General Lynn Fitch’s office successfully argued for the overturn of Roe v. Wade in June 2022’s U.S. Supreme Court decision Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which allowed states like Mississippi to enact sweeping abortion bans. The bans have forced patients to travel hundreds or even thousands of miles to obtain care in states where abortion remains lawful. One of those people, a teen rape victim who had to travel 500 miles to Illinois to obtain an abortion, shared her story last year but did not reveal her identity.
While delivering remarks from the White House Roosevelt Room in April, Vice President Kamala Harris said that “the women of America … have been in a state of fear” since the Dobbs ruling.
“We are looking at a situation in our country where healthcare providers—most of whom have had a calling to do the good and important work of taking care of other people—are in fear of losing their licenses and, worse, even being prosecuted and criminalized for the work that they do that is about providing healthcare for people in our country,” she said on April 13.
The proposed rule change, which HHS unveiled days later on April 17, warns that criminal, civil or administrative investigations into abortions performed across state lines could “chill access to lawful health care and full communication between individuals and health care providers.” Such information, the document says, “requires heightened protections.”
“After Dobbs, the Department has heard concerns that civil, criminal, or administrative investigations or proceedings have been instituted or threatened on the basis of reproductive health care that is lawful under the circumstances in which it is provided,” it says. “The threat that (private health information) will be obtained and used in such an investigation or proceeding is likely to chill individuals’ willingness to seek lawful treatment or to provide full information to their health care providers when obtaining that treatment.”
Fitch hints in her letter that she could bring a lawsuit to block the proposed federal rule if it goes into effect. “The proposed rule is at odds with the Constitution,” the letter says, arguing that it would “threaten States’ ability to exercise their longstanding medical oversight authority.”
Mississippi’s 2007 abortion trigger law, which took effect after the Dobbs decision, prohibits “abortions in the state of Mississippi” at any stage “except in cases where necessary for the preservation of the mother’s life or where the pregnancy was caused by rape.” There is no longer an abortion clinic in Mississippi since the Dobbs decision, however, and even those who meet the lawful exceptions find it difficult if not impossible to obtain abortions in the state. Anyone violating the law by providing an abortion could face up to 10 years in prison, the same as Mississippi’s pre-1973 era abortion laws. That law does not hold pregnant people who obtain abortions liable.
Fitch: Rule Could ‘Obstruct’ Trans Care Prohibitions
Attorney General Fitch’s June 16 letter notes that the proposed rule uses “a broad definition of reproductive health care” that includes “health care related to reproductive organs, regardless of whether the health care is related to an individual’s pregnancy or whether the individual is of reproductive age.” Fitch speculates that the Biden administration could “use the proposed rule to advance radical transgender-policy goals.” Earlier this year, Mississippi banned gender-affirming care for minors, including puberty blockers, hormone therapy and gender-affirming surgeries (though no such surgeries were performed in Mississippi to begin with).
“Given its far-reaching and radical approach to transgender issues, the Administration may intend to use the proposed rule to obstruct state laws concerning experimental gender-transition procedures for minors (such as puberty blockers, hormone therapy, and surgical interventions),” Fitch’s letter says, noting that at least 20 states, including a dozen this past year, have banned gender-affirming care for minors.
The 18 other officials who signed onto Fitch’s letter include Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall; Alaska Attorney General Treg Taylor; Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin; Georgia Attorney General Christopher M. Carr; Idaho Attorney General Raúl R. Labrador; Indiana Attorney General Theodore E. Rokita; Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron; Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry; Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey; Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen; Nebraska Attorney General Mike Hilgers; North Dakota Attorney General Drew H. Wrigley; Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost; South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson; South Dakota Attorney General Marty J. Jackley; Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti; Texas Provisional Attorney General John Scott; and Utah Attorney General Sean D. Reyes.