clinician typing medical code on keyboard

Hastings Center News

Abortion Miscoding—Legal Risks for Clinicians and Hospital Systems

A new commentary considers the legal risks that physicians and health care facilities may incur when they miscode patients’ medical records to conceal an abortion.

The article, published in JAMA, is co-authored by Danielle Pacia, a research associate at The Hastings Center; Carmel Shachar, the executive director of the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School; and Sravya Chary, an incoming student at Harvard Law School.

After the Dobbs decision, the “prevalence of abortion miscoding—coding a surgical or chemical abortion as a miscarriage—is likely to increase,” they write.

“While some physicians may intentionally miscode to provide abortion services while avoiding criminal liability, unintentional miscoding may occur when patients conceal self-managed abortions but require follow-up care. Both well-intentioned and unintentional miscoding carry legal risks that clinicians should consider when engaging in this practice.”

The authors conclude, “To avoid these legal ramifications, physicians should avoid engaging in the practice of miscoding and search for alternative solutions to protect clinicians, such as shield laws.” Read the commentary.