“Devoid of scientific support, misleading, and untrue.”
That’s how U.S. District Court judge Daniel Hovland described “abortion reversal” on Tuesday, in a fiery 24-page opinion that temporarily blocks a North Dakota law requiring abortion providers to tell patients that their procedure can be “reversed” — even though there’s no conclusive medical evidence demonstrating that such a protocol works.
Normally, in a medication abortion, patients take doses of two pills several hours apart. But North Dakota wants doctors to tell their patients that if they start to regret their abortion midway through, they can skip the second dose and instead take the hormone progesterone to potentially “reverse” the abortion.
“The North Dakota law requires abortion providers to enunciate the State’s viewpoint on an unproven medical and scientific theory,” Hovland wrote, in an order that will block the law from taking effect while the case remains in litigation. “North Dakota may not violate the First Amendment rights of physicians by compelling them to espouse the State’s ideology.”
Eight states have passed similar laws; five were passed in 2019 alone, as anti-abortion advocates flocked to the supposed promise of the protocol. This is the first of those 2019 laws to be blocked by a court, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights, which brought the lawsuit on behalf of the American Medical Association and the Red River Women’s Clinic, North Dakota’s only abortion clinic.
“It’s simple: patients need to be able to trust their providers.”
“It’s simple: patients need to be able to trust their providers,” Tammi Kromenaker, director of the Red River Women’s Clinic, said in a statement. “Forcing us to give our patients false medical information would violate our medical ethics and endanger the trust our patients place in us.”
In 2015, after a court blocked an Arizona “abortion reversal” law from taking effect, the state agreed to strike it down, said Marc Hearron, senior counsel at the Center for Reproductive Rights. So, he explained, “This is the first time that where a court has issued an order blocking the law, where the state is actually defending the law.”
While North Dakota argued in litigation that medical professionals are still divided over whether the “abortion reveral” protocol works, Hovland’s opinion is clear: “The record reveals no real, serious debate within the medical profession at the current time,” wrote Hovland, who serves as the chief judge for the District of North Dakota and was appointed by George W. Bush.
Throughout the opinion, Hovland does not hold back on his thoughts about the law.
“The law also clearly interferes with the doctor-patient relationship; forces the attending physician to convey to his/her patient a state-mandated message that is devoid of credible scientific evidence; misinforms and misleads the patient; undermines informed consent and the standard of care; and is arguably unethical,” he wrote. “A law which mandates that physicians become mouthpieces for a false, misleading, and controversial ‘abortion reversal’ message would not survive any level of constitutional scrutiny.”
Cover: In this Feb. 20, 2013, file photo, Tammi Kromenaker, director of the Red River Valley Women's Clinic, North Dakota's sole abortion provider, sits in the waiting area of the facility in Fargo, N.D. A federal judge in North Dakota on Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2019, has blocked a state law passed earlier this year that required physicians to tell women they may reverse a so-called medication abortion if they have second thoughts. Kromenaker, said the law would force doctors to give false information that is not backed up by science. (AP Photo/Dave Kolpack, File)