American Medical Association v. Stenehjem


Primary Content

This federal lawsuit challenges 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 suit was filed on June 25, 2019 in the United States District Court, District of North Dakota. It asks the court to block enforcement of North Dakota’s compelled speech laws, which would inflict irreparable harm on patients and force physicians to violate their obligation to give honest and informed advice.

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, 2019. 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.

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.

The lawsuit argues that just last term, the U.S. Supreme Court held in National Institute of Family & Life Advocates v. Becerra that candor is crucial in the patient-physician relationship, and that the government cannot regulate the speech of medical professionals to advance controversial ideas or to discriminate based on the content and/or viewpoint of the speaker. But this is precisely what North Dakota’s compelled speech laws do.

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.” Five of those states—including Arkansas, which expanded an existing law—passed the legislation in the past year.

Plaintiff(s): American Medical Association, Red River Women's Clinic, and Kathryn L. Eggleston, M.D.
Center Attorney(s): Molly Duane
Co-Counsel/Cooperating Attorneys: