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Washington Roundup: Biden’s HIPAA abortion rule; presidential debate signals; honoring Jimmy Lai

U.S. President Joe Biden reiterates his administration's commitment to restoring Roe v. Wade during a campaign stop at Hillsborough Community College's Dale Mabry campus in Tampa, Fla., April 23, 2024. The U.S. Supreme Court in 2022 overturned Roe, which had legalized abortion nationwide, and returned the abortion issue to the legislature. (OSV News photo/Kevin Lamarque, Reuters)

WASHINGTON (OSV News) — The Biden administration issued a new regulation to shield the medical records of women from criminal investigations if they cross state lines to seek an abortion where it is legal.

Meanwhile, President Joe Biden signaled his intention to debate former President Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, during the general election cycle, and legislation introduced in the House would honor prominent Hong Kong Catholic, philanthropist and media mogul Jimmy Lai, who is facing a trial that democracy advocates around the world said includes bogus charges. The case is seen as a test of Hong Kong’s freedom within the People’s Republic of China.

Biden administration issues new HIPAA regulation

The regulation is aimed at shielding women who undergo abortions across state lines from potential prosecution if they live in a state where abortion has been restricted.

The new regulation, finalized under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, prohibits medical providers from divulging private medical information about their patients. Previous rules gave health care providers and insurers more ability to disclose some medical information in certain cases, like a criminal investigation.

In a statement, HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra, said, “Many Americans are scared their private medical information will be being shared, misused, and disclosed without permission. This has a chilling effect on women visiting a doctor, picking up a prescription from a pharmacy, or taking other necessary actions to support their health.”

“With reproductive health under attack by some lawmakers, these protections are more important than ever,” he said.

Becerra acknowledged in comments to The Associated Press that the regulation will likely face legal challenges.

“Until we have a national law that reinstitutes Roe v. Wade, we’re going to have issues,” Becerra told the AP. “But that doesn’t stop us from doing everything we can to protect every Americans’ right to access the care they need.”

Dr. Christina Francis, CEO of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists said in a statement, “Patient privacy is extremely important. However, HIPAA already offered robust privacy protections before the addition of this new rule.”

“The rule, which is clearly intended in part to prevent the enforcement of pro-life laws, is written in vague and confusing language that may also impact investigations into crimes such as sexual abuse and trafficking,” Francis said. “This rule protects the abortion industry and criminals, not patients.”

Biden signals he will debate Trump

Biden said April 26 that he will debate Trump prior to their expected rematch presidential election Nov. 5.

“I am, somewhere,” Biden told radio host Howard Stern. “I don’t know when. I’m happy to debate him.”

Biden has not ruled out debates with Trump, but previously said in March that it “depends on his behavior.” Trump and his campaign have since pressured Biden to commit to a debate.

One of the scheduled debates between Biden and Trump in 2020 was canceled when Trump tested positive for COVID-19 during the height of the pandemic and he refused to participate virtually instead.

Ambiguity about televised general election debates goes against modern American political norms. Major news outlets recently wrote an unusual letter to the Biden and Trump campaigns urging them to debate.

Bipartisan bill to honor Jimmy Lai

Bipartisan legislation introduced in the House by Reps. Chris Smith, R-N.J., and Tom Suozzi, D-N.Y., would rename the address of the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office in Washington as 1 Jimmy Lai Way to honor the democracy advocate and vocal critic of the Chinese Communist Party, whom the lawmakers said remains unjustly imprisoned by Hong Kong authorities.

Lai, 76, has been incarcerated since December 2020 on charges under a new, controversial national security law imposed on Hong Kong by China’s government. His supporters say the charges against the Hong Kong Catholic are fabricated and politically-motivated.

“Jimmy Lai is a man of faith and conviction, someone who fervently believed that Hong Kong’s prosperity and vitality were built on the rights promised to its citizens,” said Smith, who is chairman of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, and who also nominated Lai for the 2024 Nobel Peace Prize. “For peacefully acting on this belief, he is arbitrarily detained.”

“We will continue to press for Jimmy Lai’s unconditional release and seek ways to raise the diplomatic and reputational costs globally for the Hong Kong government and their Chinese Communist Party masters for their rough dismantling of democratic freedoms and the rule of law in Hong Kong,” Smith added.

“The free world must continue calling attention to the Chinese Communist Party’s crimes in Xinjiang, erosion of democracy in Hong Kong, and saber-rattling against Taiwan,” Suozzi said.

He said renaming the Washington street for Jimmy Lai “will signal to the entire world that the United States stands in solidarity with those who oppose the tyranny and repression of the Chinese government.”

On its website, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom said Lai’s imprisonment “inhibits religious freedom advocacy.”

Kate Scanlon is a national reporter for OSV News covering Washington. Follow her on X (formerly known as Twitter) @kgscanlon.

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