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Judge Blocks North Dakota's Medication Abortion Reversal Law

09-10-2019

A  federal judge in North Dakota has ruled against a recent state law that required physicians to tell women they may reverse a so-called medication abortion if they have second thoughts.

North Dakota is among eight states to pass or amend laws requiring doctors to tell women undergoing medication abortions they can still have a live birth after the procedure. The other states with similar laws are Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, South Dakota, Oklahoma, Nebraska, and Utah. Five of those laws were passed this year.

The North Dakota law also required doctors to tell the patient "time is of the essence" if she changes her mind.

US District Judge Daniel Hovland said in his 24-page decision that state lawmakers should not be mandating unproven medical treatments and the provisions of the bill "go far beyond" any informed consent laws addressed by the US Supreme Court, Eighth US Circuit Court of Appeals "or other courts to date."

The lawsuit was brought by the American Medical Association and the Red River Women's Clinic which is North Dakota's only abortion clinic located in Fargo. 

Hovland was nominated by President George W. Bush in 2002 and confirmed by the US Senate that same year. He is scheduled to take senior status this year.

Supporters say the hormone progesterone may stop an abortion after a woman has taken the first of two medications needed to complete the abortion. 

Republican state Rep. Daniel Johnston, who sponsored the bill, said earlier that the measure does not restrict abortions and couldn't see "how anyone could be against it."

Mike Nowatzki, a spokesman for North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, referred The Associated Press to the GOP governor's comments when he signed the bill in March. Burgum noted at the time that it was approved overwhelmingly in both chambers of the Legislature and said: "If it gives hope to even one person who has started the process and wants to try to reverse it, it is worth providing that information."

Marc Hearron, attorney for the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a release that the issue came down to free speech and protecting the First Amendment rights of physicians.

"Across the country, doctors are being used as political pawns in the attack on abortion," Hearron said. "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."

The lawsuit also challenges another state law requiring doctors to tell patients that abortion terminates "the life of a whole, separate, unique, living human being." The court has yet to rule on that provision.

Dr. Patrice Harris, president of the American Medical Association, said her group became involved because it doesn't believe government should dictate what physicians say to their patients.

"We look forward to seeing the case through and continuing to defend the right for patients to speak freely with their physicians about all their health care options," Harris said in a statement.

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