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State lawmaker seeks to limit crisis centers’ patient data

While anti-abortion lawmakers in many states move to empower so-called crisis pregnancy centers, one representative in Harrisburg hopes to restrict the centers’ power to keep patient data.

In a memo this week, state Rep. Mary Jo Daley, D-Mongtomery said she’ll propose a bill that would bar the centers from sharing visitor information without permission. While such a rule wouldn’t be necessary at most health care providers — already covered by HIPAA, a federal privacy law — crisis pregnancy centers aren’t covered under existing laws, Daley said.

In advertising and online, the centers offer support and advice to those concerned about newly discovered pregnancies. Many, however, are firmly anti-abortion and push callers to seek alternatives.

That stance has drawn criticism from pro-abortion rights advocates, who argue that the clinics falsely bill themselves as health care providers. That criticism has grown in recent weeks, after a national coalition of abortion rights activists warned of new bills that would give the centers official backing in a handful of states.

At least one such bill in Oklahoma would assign patients unique ID numbers, raising privacy concerns.

Daley pointed to the possibility that centers could share patient data with outsiders. That could pose a risk, she said, especially in light of a recent Texas law that lets any citizen sue anyone who helps another get an abortion.

“A recent decision by the Office of Open Records uncovered that (crisis pregnancy centers) sent records that included people’s names, along with the services they received, to Pennsylvania’s publicly funded CPC network,” Daley said in her memo. “On its own this is a dangerous invasion of privacy, but considering recent movement to deputize private citizens into vigilantes to regulate reproductive health, the threat is becoming even more imminent.”

Anti-abortion activists across the country have pushed for bills to offer official backing to crisis pregnancy centers. Labeled the Every Mother Matters Act, the bills require would-be abortion patients to first get consultation and support for alternatives.

One such bill “ensures that an at-risk pregnant woman has a meaningful opportunity to learn about and access a variety of assistance when she needs it most,” Human Coalition Action, an anti-abortion rights group, said in a news release.

Pennsylvania hasn’t passed such a law. Many other efforts to restrict or curtail abortion access, however, have gained broad support in the GOP-controlled General Assembly.

GOP race divided, cash-rich

A new poll shows an open race among the Republicans hoping to keep a U.S. Senate seat, a contest that’s already drawn millions of dollars in advertising.

As anyone with cable TV can attest, the GOP candidates for retiring Sen. Pat Toomey’s seat have been sparring constantly with big-budget ads. The primary candidates — including celebrity physician Mehmet Oz, hedge fund manager David McCormick and CEO Carla Sands — have accused one another of weakness toward China and insufficient ties to former president Donald Trump.

A newly released poll from the Trafalgar Group, covering more than 1,000 GOP voters in early February, shows it remains anyone’s race. Oz leads with 27.4%, followed by McCormick at 15.9% and Sands with 14.8%. Several other candidates tally less than 10%.

Still, a sizable share of likely voters — 21.6% — say they haven’t decided or don’t plan to vote. That leaves an open race, especially if some candidates drop out.

Pennsylvania’s Senate seat is among the most hotly contested in the U.S., with the politically divided state open to either party. Democratic hopefuls are locked in a tense but so far less cash-intensive campaign, with U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb, D-17th District, and Lt. Gov. John Fetterman drawing the most attention so far.

Plan to put brakes on hospital sales

Three eastern Pennsylvania lawmakers are working to require state approval before hospitals and hospital systems can be sold.

State Reps. Kristine Howard, Melissa Shusterman and Dan K. Williams, all Democrats of Chester County, said last week that they’ll propose a bill requiring the Department of Health to review and sign off on all hospital sales.

The move comes after two Chester County hospitals were set to be sold to a company specializing in hospital acquisition. The deal fell through, prompting the owners to close the hospitals — leaving patients and some 800 employees adrift.

A judge has since ordered the deal to proceed, raising hopes that the hospitals could be upgraded and preserved. Still, the proposal could require greater public scrutiny before a similar situation occurs.

“This bill would require (the Department of Health) to review applications, hold public hearings and prepare impact statements on the effect of the buying and selling of health care services that the hospital or hospital system is providing,” the representatives said, arguing that it would “ensure both lives and livelihoods are not at risk because of snap decision-making.”

Ryan Brown covers statewide politics for Ogden Newspapers. He can be reached at rbrown@altoonamirror.com.

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