HCN News & Notes

AMA Files Lawsuit to Protect Patient-physician Relationship in North Dakota

CHICAGO — The American Medical Association (AMA) today filed a lawsuit to challenge the constitutionality of two North Dakota laws that compel physicians and other members of the care team to provide patients with false, misleading, non-medical information about reproductive health.

The AMA is filing the lawsuit in partnership with Center for Reproductive Rights, Red River Women’s Clinic — the only abortion clinic in North Dakota —and its medical director, Kathryn Eggleston, M.D., as co-plaintiffs.

Filed in the United States District Court, District of North Dakota, the lawsuit asks the court to block enforcement of North Dakota’s compelled speech laws, which the AMA argues would inflict irreparable harm on patients and force physicians to violate their obligation to give honest and informed advice.

“The patient-physician relationship is the cornerstone of health care, and depends upon honest, open conversations about all of a patient’s health care options,” said AMA President Patrice A. Harris, M.D., M.A. “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 health care options available to patients.”

The two laws being challenged would force physicians to misinform their patients that medication abortion may be “reversible,” which is contrary to science, and require that physicians convey ideological, government-mandated messages that are false or misleading:

• H.B. 1336, which was passed earlier this year and is scheduled to take effect August 1. This law would force physicians to tell patients that a medication abortion may be “reversed” — 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.

• An existing North Dakota law that forces physicians to tell patients that abortion terminates “the life of a whole, separate, unique, living human being” — a controversial, ideological, and non-medical message — and unconstitutionally forces physicians to act as the mouthpiece of the state.

“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, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which is filing the lawsuit on behalf of the AMA. “The First Amendment prohibits the government from hijacking the doctor-patient relationship to advance a political agenda.”

In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs argue that these laws violate the First Amendment rights of physicians by forcing them to convey false information and non-medical statements with which they disagree. The lawsuit asks the court to block H.B. 1336 before it takes effect on August 1.