AMA challenges North Dakota laws it says force physicians to give false abortion information to patients

Medical justice
The AMA filed a lawsuit to overturn two North Dakota abortion laws. (Getty/yavdat)

The American Medical Association (AMA) filed a lawsuit over a pair of North Dakota laws it says will force physicians to give false information about abortion to patients, saying the move is necessary to protect the patient-physician relationship.

The AMA filed the lawsuit Tuesday to challenge the constitutionality of two state laws it says compel physicians and other clinicians to provide patients with “false, misleading non-medical information” about their reproductive health.

The AMA filed the lawsuit alongside the Center for Reproductive Rights and the Red River Women’s Clinic, which is the only abortion clinic in North Dakota, and its medical director Kathryn Eggleston, M.D.

The AMA filed the suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of North Dakota and asked the court to block enforcement of the two state laws dealing with abortion.

A bill passed by the North Dakota legislation earlier this year and scheduled to take effect Aug. 1 would force physicians to tell patients that a medication abortion may be “reversed,” which the AMA says is a “patently false and unproven claim unsupported by scientific evidence.”

“Under this law, doctors must also give patients government-scripted information on where to find a medical professional who will provide an experimental and unethical treatment to “reverse” an abortion—a treatment that is already seemingly prohibited by North Dakota law,” the AMA said in a statement.

The other law already in effect requires doctors to tell patients that abortion terminates “the life of a whole, separate, unique, living human being.” The AMA said that is “a controversial, ideological and non-medical message—and unconstitutionally forces physicians to act as the mouthpiece of the state.”

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In the lawsuit, the AMA argues the laws force physicians to violate their obligation to give honest and informed advice to patients.

“The patient-physician relationship is the cornerstone of healthcare, and depends upon honest, open conversations about all of a patient’s health care options,” said AMA President Patrice Harris, M.D. “North Dakota’s law undermines this relationship by requiring physicians to mislead and misinform their patients with messages that contradict reality and science. The AMA will always defend science and open conversations about all healthcare options available to patients.”

Republican state Rep. Daniel Johnston told the Associated Press he sponsored the bill so “women having second thoughts” know they have options and that it does not restrict abortions. He also said he couldn’t see “how anyone could be against it," the AP reported.

The Center for Reproductive Rights filed the lawsuit on behalf of the AMA and the Red River Women’s Clinic. “Lawmakers are forcing falsehoods and propaganda into the mouths of physicians against their will, effectively forcing them to violate their ethical obligation to do no harm,” said Nancy Northup, its president and CEO. “The First Amendment prohibits the government from hijacking the doctor-patient relationship to advance a political agenda.”

“The women we serve come to us assuming we will provide them with medically-accurate information and care,” said Tammi Kromenaker, director of Red River Women’s Clinic in Fargo. “North Dakota’s laws are forcing us to say things that violate our medical ethics and will soon force us to say things that are simply false and not backed up by science.”

North Dakota is among eight states, including five in the last year, to pass or amend laws requiring doctors to tell women undergoing medication abortions that they can “reverse” the process and still have a live birth after the procedure, which commonly requires women take two prescription medications. Other states that have passed similar laws are Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, South Dakota, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Utah.

This is the second lawsuit filed in recent months by the AMA over abortion issues and physician rights. The AMA sued the Trump administration in March over funding for Title X family planning organizations offering abortion services, calling the rule a “gag rule” that interferes with the patient-physician relationship.