September 20, 2022

Warren, Senators Demand Answers from Heartbeat International about the Collection – and Potential Disclosure – of Women’s Reproductive Health Information

“We are concerned that the lack of transparency and lack of protection will allow the data Heartbeat International and its affiliates collect to ‘be used in pregnancy- and abortion-related prosecutions.’”

Text of Letter (PDF)

Washington D.C. – U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and six Senators sent a letter to Heartbeat International, an anti-abortion organization that supports thousands of crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) across the country, calling on the organization to answer a series of questions about its collection and use  of women’s personal data, including sensitive health care information.

“Heartbeat International – which is explicitly opposed to abortion rights – appears to be in a position to collect a significant amount of personal information from women about their pregnancies and potential plans for managing their care, but it is not under any legal obligation to maintain the confidentiality of this information, or keep it out of the hands of abortion bounty hunters,” wrote the lawmakers.

Heartbeat International’s vision “is to make abortion unwanted today and unthinkable for future generations.” To accomplish that goal, the organization has invested in a data collection system to keep track of personal information, including individuals’ names, addresses, phone numbers, and reproductive health information. CPCs and similar organizations are not legitimate medical facilities and therefore are not subject to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), raising significant privacy concerns.

“We fear that, in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision that stripped women of their right to an abortion, this information may be used to put women’s health and freedom to choose in jeopardy, and to put them and their health care providers at risk of criminal penalties,” wrote the lawmakers.

Following the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade and Senator Graham’s (R-S.C.) introduction of a national abortion ban, the lawmakers expressed concern about the sensitive health information Heartbeat International and its affiliate CPCs collect from women who believe they can seek legitimate abortion and reproductive health care services at these facilities. They are calling on Heartbeat International to answer a number of questions about the data and information they collect by October 3, 2022.

The letter was also signed by Senators Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.).

  • On August 5, 2022, Senator Warren delivered remarks on the Senate floor about the need to crack down on the deceptive and misleading practices used by many CPCs.
  • On August 4, 2022, Senator Warren sent a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), outlining concrete actions HHS can take to help meet President Biden’s goal of protecting and expanding access to medication abortion.
  • On June 23, 2022, Senator Warren introduced the Stop Anti-Abortion Disinformation Act to crack down on false advertising that crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) employ to dissuade patients from getting the reproductive care they need, including abortion care.
  • On June 23, 2022, Senator Warren sent letters to BetterHelp and Talkspace, two leading mental health apps, expressing deep concerns about the companies’ use of patients’ personal health data and requesting more information about their data sharing and privacy practices.
  • On June 15, 2022, Senator Warren introduced the Health and Location Data Protection Act to ban data brokers from selling Americans’ health and location data, particularly in light of the Dobbs decision. 
  • On May 17, 2022, Senator Warren led thirteen of her Senate colleagues in letters to two data brokers demanding answers regarding their collection and sale of the cellphone-based location data of people who visit abortion clinics such as Planned Parenthood.