If an adult has knowledge of how many abortions that a woman has had in her lifetime and that adult was to inform a child of that woman about her abortions and this leads to that child suffering emotional distress, can the woman who had those abortions sue that adult for revealing this information to her child?

I am curious to know if there is an existing law(s) that make it illegal for any adult to reveal/discuss abortion information with a child of a woman who has had abortions. I am familiar with HIPAA laws and what constitutes a HIPAA violation and it is obvious that a woman can sue someone who is guilty of gaining information via a HIPAA violation.

It is unclear to me however that in a scenario in which a woman, or the husband of that woman, was to pass on the woman's abortion information to a neighbor/teacher/friend/relative/etc. in causal conversation, and then sometime in the future this person reveals this information to the woman's child, can the woman sue this person for causing her child's emotional distress?

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    Your tag and the mention of HIPPA indicate that this is in a US context, but the question does not say what state. This will probably be a matter of state law, not federal, and the answer will not be the same in every US state. Commented Jan 31, 2019 at 19:53
  • IANAL but my understanding of HIPAA is that it only applies to covered entities and members of the general public aren't covered entities. Healthcare providers and their business associates are. But again IANAL.
    – bob
    Commented Jul 19, 2023 at 2:48

1 Answer 1


Revealing such information might be an example of an Invasion of Privacy tort, specifically "Disclosure of Private Facts". Not all US states recognize this tort. The Findlaw page on "What is Invasion of privacy" says:

Public disclosure of private facts laws protect your right to keep the details of your private life from becoming public information. For example, publicizing facts about a person's health, sexual conduct, or financial troubles is likely an invasion of privacy. While state laws vary, the general elements of this tort are as follows:

1.The defendant publicized a matter regarding the private life of the plaintiff;

2.The publicized matter would be highly offensive to a reasonable person; and

3.It is not of a legitimate concern to the public.

To publicize a private matter, laws generally require that the private information is disseminated in such a way that it is substantially certain to become public knowledge

A linked sub-page of the above says:

Generally, disclosure to one or two people does not constitute a public disclosure unless there is an implication that the information should be spread around.

The Digital Media law Project's page on "Publication of Private Facts" says much the same thing. The 1976 law review article "The First Amendment Privilege and Public Disclosure of Private Facts" by Samuel Soopper Discusses this tort in some detail, although it mostly focuses on publications by the news media where first amendment issues are in play.

It seems as if such a tort case might be hard to bring because of the small number of people to whom the fact was disclosed. A claim for Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress might fit such a situation, but this would depend on the specific facts of the case, and again, on the state where the issue would be tried.

In any case, this would not be a criminal action, and a lawyer would have to be consulted to better determine if a civil action could be pursued.

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    This is a very interesting area of law that I did not know existed. Do you know if any of these statues have survived modern first amendment attacks?
    – Viktor
    Commented Feb 1, 2019 at 0:05
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    @Viktor I believe that they have, but I don't have citable cases at hand. The law review article linked above is a good place to start, but is not up to date. The main way that First Amendment concerns have been addressed, I understand, is that any "newsworthy" content cannot be the subject of a "private facts" suit, this is also called the 'legitimate public interest" test. Commented Feb 1, 2019 at 15:10
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    Most states (but not all) have declined to adopt that particular privacy tort from the Restatement due to First Amendment concerns, but twelve states (including DC and some with big populations) do. I do not think that a truthful statement of this kind would sustain a cause of action in the face of First Amendment concerns on these facts. But, there are, indeed, somewhat similar cases where liability has been found.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Feb 1, 2019 at 23:24

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