American Medical Association sues North Dakota, takes rare stance in Trump-era abortion debate

The American Medical Association has filed a lawsuit against North Dakota, attempting to block two laws that it says would be harmful to patients seeking abortion care.

One of the laws, scheduled to go into effect on Aug. 1, would require physicians to tell patients that a medication-induced abortion — which involves taking two drugs at separate times — can be "reversed." The AMA, in a press release, called that claim "patently false and unproven" and "unsupported by scientific evidence."

The other law would require physicians to tell patients that abortions terminate "the life of a whole, separate, unique living human being," an ideological and non-medical message that the AMA says "unconstitutionally forces physicians to act as the mouthpiece of the state."

The lawsuit, filed last week in partnership with the Center for Reproductive Rights and the Red River Women's Clinic — North Dakota's only abortion clinic — comes at a time when the Trump administration and state conservatives have been strengthening efforts to ban legal abortion, especially in the early stages of pregnancy.

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Other states have recently made similar moves — for example, the Missouri Senate passed a bill to ban abortions at eight weeks, a time that opponents say is too early for many women to even know they're pregnant.

The AMA, which represents all types of physicians, has previously avoided taking a political stance on matters such as abortion and contraception due to the ideological diversity of its members.

But, AMA President Patrice Harris said in an interview, the organization felt the need to take a stand because the law would force the small number of doctors who perform abortions in the state to lie to patients, putting "physicians in a place where we are required by law to commit an ethical violation," NPR reported.

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This marks the second time this year that the AMA has ventured into the abortion debate; in March, the group filed a lawsuit in Oregon to block the Trump administration's new rules for the federal family planning program. Among those rules was a "gag rule" that would restrict federal family planning funding for providers who refer patients for abortions.

"Restricting what type of information physicians may share with those whom they are trying to heal is a clear violation of patients’ rights, not to mention physicians' First Amendment protections," wrote then-AMA President Barbara McAneny.

The lawsuit in North Dakota illustrates a new, unusually aggressive stance on abortion for the AMA, which has taken multiple positions on abortion-related issues since its founding in the late 1800s.

“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 the AMA's press release. “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.”

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The lawsuit also asserts that the new rules would violate physicians' First Amendment rights by forcing them to convey false information and non-medical statements about abortion to patients, even if they disagree.

"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. “The First Amendment prohibits the government from hijacking the doctor-patient relationship to advance a political agenda.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: American Medical Association sues North Dakota, takes rare stance in Trump-era abortion debate