Judge sides with doctors and blocks North Dakota abortion counseling law
A federal judge has temporarily blocked a North Dakota law that would require physicians to give patients what doctors say is inaccurate information about abortion — specifically, that the effects of abortion drugs can be reversed.
“Legislation which forces physicians to tell their patients, as part of informed consent, that ‘it may be possible’ to reverse or cure an ailment, disease, illness, surgical procedure, or the effects of any medication — in the absence of any medical or scientific evidence to support such a message — is unsound, misplaced, and would not survive a constitutional challenge under any level of scrutiny,” US District Court Judge Daniel Hovland wrote in an order Tuesday.
The decision marks another win for abortion rights advocates, who are challenging a slew of state laws restricting abortion access nationwide. Federal judges have blocked early-term abortion bans in Mississippi, Ohio, Arkansas and Missouri so far this year.
The American Medical Association sued in June along with the Center for Reproductive Rights and member health care providers. The lawsuit names North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem and Cass County State Attorney Birch Burdick in their official capacities.
When asked for comment on the temporary block, Stenehjem’s spokeswoman Liz Brocker said that “we are reviewing the order.” Burdick’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
AMA President Patrice Harris welcomed the ruling, saying that “open, honest conversations between patients and physicians are the cornerstone of medicine.”
“With this ruling, physicians in North Dakota will not be forced by law to provide patients with false, misleading, non-medical information about reproductive health that contradicts reality and science,” she added.
Marc Hearron, senior counsel at the Center for Reproductive Rights, praised Tuesday’s decision when “across the country, doctors are being used as political pawns in the attack on abortion.”
“We all have the right to free speech and to speak the truth. That doesn’t change because you’re a doctor who provides abortion care,” he said in a statement. “Today, the court stepped in to protect the First Amendment rights of these physicians.”
In the initial challenge, the AMA argued against the North Dakota law as well as a state code requiring physicians to tell patients that the procedure “will terminate the life of a whole, separate, unique, living human being.”
The requirements infringe on providers’ First Amendment rights by forcing medical professionals to convey a claim “about fetal personhood that is unmoored from medical science” and about medication abortion that is “wholly unsupported by the best, most reliable scientific evidence,” the group wrote.
In his decision Tuesday, Hovland criticized state lawmakers for passing the measure.
“State legislatures should not be mandating unproven medical treatments, or requiring physicians to provide patients with misleading and inaccurate information,” he wrote.
North Dakota is not alone in its law. Nebraska, Kentucky, Oklahoma and Arkansas have also codified measures this year requiring abortion providers to tell patients that medication abortion could be reversed.