Data Privacy Concerns Grow as More Abortion Patients Travel to WA: Cantwell Reintroduces Bill to Protect Personal Data

Idaho’s ‘Abortion Trafficking Law’ raises data privacy concerns for patients traveling to the State of Washington

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Yesterday, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) joined Sens. Mazie Hirono (D-HI), and 11 other Senate colleagues in reintroducing the My Body, My Data Act, to protect online personal reproductive health data including location tracking, search histories, and data collected by fertility apps. This legislation was first introduced last June in response to the leaked draft decision ahead of the fall of Roe v. Wade.

“Everyone needs strong, enforceable rights to protect their most sensitive health data. We must ensure that companies are doing right by their customers to enforce privacy policies and guarantee that sensitive user data is not being sold to individuals wishing to track down and prosecute people for seeking abortion care,” said Sen. Cantwell.

The bill would create a new national standard to protect personal reproductive health data, enforced by the Federal Trade Commission. By minimizing the personal reproductive health data that is collected and retained, the bill would prevent this information from being disclosed or misused.

Recent reporting has shown that while some companies have committed to deleting sensitive data from smartphones, this data is not being deleted consistently and can be accessed or later subpoenaed.

In recent months, nearly 80% of abortion patients served at Planned Parenthood in Pullman, WA, come from Idaho. The Planned Parenthood in Kennewick, WA – the closest reproductive health center to Boise, ID – is experiencing a 7,000% increase in abortion patient visits from Idaho compared to this time last year. 

Idaho’s abortion trafficking law also poses data privacy concerns for Washington state providers and residents. The first-of-its-kind law makes helping a minor obtain abortion pills – or providing housing or transportation for a minor seeking abortion care – a criminal offense punishable by two to five years in prison.

Since the fall of Roe, 14 states, including Idaho, have enacted total abortion bans and five states have passed partial bans that limit access to abortion after six, 18, or 20 weeks. This has raised serious concerns that data collected by apps and websites could be used to target or arrest people where abortion is criminalized. This includes location data, search histories, and reproductive health data collected by fertility tracking apps each month.

Currently, few protections exist to prevent personal reproductive health data or information about people seeking reproductive health services from being collected, retained, or disclosed to third parties. The My Body, My Data Act is the first Congressional action to strengthen digital privacy and protect our personal reproductive health information specifically.

In addition to Sens. Cantwell and Hirono, the legislation was sponsored by Sen. Wyden (D-OR) and cosponsored by Sens. Baldwin (D-WI), Blumenthal (D-CT), Brown (D-OH), Duckworth (D-IL), Gillibrand (D-NY), Klobuchar (D-MN), Merkley (D-OR), Menendez (D-NJ), Shaheen (D-NH), and Smith (D-MN). In addition to Representative Jacobs (D, CA-51), 91 representatives co-sponsored this legislation in the House.

The full text of the bill is available HERE.