Judge rules in favor of AMA, protects physicians' First Amendment rights

Gavel court room lawsuit judge
A North Dakota judge ruled in favor of the American Medical Association’s challenge to a North Dakota law that would require physicians to tell patients medication abortions may be reversed. (Pixabay)

In a victory for doctors, a North Dakota judge ruled that a state law cannot force physicians to give patients false information about abortion.

The judge ruled in favor of the American Medical Association’s (AMA's) challenge to a North Dakota law that would require physicians to tell patients that medication abortions may be reversed.

In a 24-page decision (PDF) issued Tuesday, Judge Daniel L. Hovland granted a preliminary injunction restraining the state from enforcing the law that mandates doctors tell patients about the possibility of reversing the effects of an abortion-inducing drug.

“The AMA filed this lawsuit in North Dakota because we strongly believe the government should not dictate what physicians say to their patients. Open, honest conversations between patients and physicians are the cornerstone of medicine, so we are pleased that the federal district court of North Dakota has blocked enforcement of the newest compelled speech law while this case advances in the courts,” said Patrice Harris, M.D., president of the AMA, which filed a lawsuit in June along with Red River Women's Clinic, North Dakota's only abortion provider.

“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,” Harris said.

The judge, who issued the preliminary injunction until the case is decided in a full hearing, said the state law requiring physicians to tell patients their medication abortions may be reversed is not supported by science.

"State legislatures should not be mandating unproven medical treatments, or requiring physicians to provide patients with misleading and inaccurate information," Hovland wrote in his ruling. "The provisions of (this law) violate a physician's right not to speak and go far beyond any informed consent laws addressed by the United States Supreme Court, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, or other courts to date."

The Center for Reproductive Rights, the legal group that filed the lawsuit on behalf of the AMA and the women’s clinic, said the judge’s ruling protects the rights of physicians.

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“Across the country, doctors are being used as political pawns in the attack on abortion,” Marc Hearron, the organization’s senior counsel, said in a statement. “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. Today, the court stepped in to protect the First Amendment rights of these physicians."

Tammi Kromenaker, director of Red River Women’s Clinic, agreed. “It’s simple: patients need to be able to trust their providers. Forcing us to give our patients false medical information would violate our medical ethics and endanger the trust our patients place in us,” she said.

Eight states—Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, North Dakota, South Dakota, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Utah—have passed similar laws requiring abortion providers to tell patients about so-called medication abortion “reversal,” according to the Center for Reproductive Rights.

The AMA’s lawsuit also challenges a separate North Dakota law that requires physicians to tell patients that abortion terminates "the life of a whole, separate, unique, living human being." Hovland’s ruling did not address that aspect of the lawsuit.