Judge Blocks North Dakota’s Anti-Abortion Law: ‘Devoid of Scientific Support, Misleading and Untrue’

A federal court in North Dakota has blocked a controversial anti-abortion law from taking effect. The law required physicians to counsel patients that an abortion performed via medication could be reversed if they changed their mind during the procedure.

Recently passed by the North Dakota legislature and signed into law by Republican Gov. Doug Burgum, the requirement effectively compelled doctors lie to their abortion-seeking patients. There is, in fact, no way to reverse an abortion induced by medication.

In a 24-page order enjoining the law from taking effect, U.S. District Judge Daniel L. Hovland made a point to highlight that the so-called “abortion reversal” protocol mandated by House Bill 1336 “is devoid of scientific support, misleading, and untrue.”

The terms of that now pre-defunct law read, in relevant part:

The woman is informed, by the physician or the physician’s agent, at least twenty-four hours before the abortion…That it maybe possible to reverse the effects of an abortion-inducing drug if she changes her mind, but time is of the essence, and information and assistance with reversing the effects of an abortion-inducing drug are available in the printed materials given to her as described [elsewhere in the statute].

To hear the Peace Garden State tell it, medical abortions can be reversed by administering an unidentified dose of the steroid progesterone to women after they’ve already taken one half of the two-drug cocktail typically used by doctors to terminate pregnancies. Those two drugs are mifepristone (RU486) and misoprostol–and are usually taken 24-48 hours apart–administered first at the abortion clinic and then at the woman’s place of residence, respectively.

To bolster its case for this controversial thesis, North Dakota’s GOP Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem cited the testimony of one family physician from North Dakota who claims to have “been involved in the use of progesterone to reverse the effects of” mifepristone. In testimony provided by the state, Dr. Richard Vetter made the ultimately waffling claim that one patient’s ingestion of progesterone “likely was at least partially responsible” for salvaging the woman’s pregnancy.

“This is not sufficient evidence on which to base medical practice,” noted University of Pennsylvania HealthSystem—Penn Medicine obstetrician/gynecologist Dr. Courtney Schreiber, in an affidavit cited at length by Judge Hovland.

“In my medical opinion,the administration of progesterone, which only addresses the potential to reverse mifepristone, not misoprostol or any other abortion-inducing drugs,is experimental and unsupported by scientific evidence,” Schreiber explains. “Thus, requiring physicians to tell women that there is “assistance”available to reverse the effects of abortion-inducing drugs generally, including mifepristone and misoprostol, could easily mislead patients into wrongly assuming that there are reliable data to support this practice.”

An additional expert cited by the state, Dr. Jerry Obritsch, similarly offered testimony that ended up being less than beneficial to the state’s case. The court’s opinion and order notes:

[T]he statement that “it maybe possible to reverse the effects of an abortion-inducing drug” is misleading at best. The State’s own expert, Dr. Obritsch, admits that: “The term ‘abortion reversal’ is somewhat misleading in that an abortion is not reversed but rather, abortion is prevented from occurring…by preventing the antiprogesterone effect of mifepristone from exerting its effect upon the pregnancy.” Dr. Obritsch concludes, “The Abortion Pill Reversal (APR) protocol is lacking rigorous scientific studies to support its efficacy.”

So, not only was North Dakota’s forced speech inaccurate as a matter of scientific fact–the state’s own medical experts directly undercut the anti-abortion argument being made.

[image via Image SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images]

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