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Judge blocks Alabama’s felony ban on transgender medication for minors

A federal judge blocked the portion of Alabama’s law that bars minors from receiving puberty blockers and hormones but allowed the rest to remain in effect.
Transgender Rights Advocates Rally Against Alabama Legislation
Opponents of several bills targeting transgender youth attend a rally at the Alabama State House on March 30 in Montgomery. Julie Bennett / Getty Images

A federal judge blocked part of a newly enacted Alabama law that made it a felony for doctors to provide certain gender-affirming medical care to minors.

Alabama was the third state to pass restrictions on transgender health care, following Arkansas and Tennessee, but the first to add felony penalties. Doctors and other health care providers who violate the Vulnerable Child Compassion and Protection Act, which took effect May 8 and is partially still in effect, could face up to 10 years in prison or a $15,000 fine, or both. 

Civil rights groups and the Justice Department argued against the law on behalf of doctors and transgender minors in the state last week, and in an opinion issued Friday, U.S. District Judge Liles Burke found “substantial likelihood” that part of Alabama’s law was unconstitutional. 

He put a temporary block on the portion of the law that bars minors from receiving nonsurgical care such as puberty blockers and hormones, writing that parents “have a fundamental right to direct the medical care of their children.” 

“This right includes the more specific right to treat their children with transitioning medications subject to medically accepted standards,” he said. “The Act infringes on that right and, as such, is subject to strict scrutiny. At this stage of litigation, the Act falls short of that standard because it is not narrowly tailored to achieve a compelling government interest.”

Burke allowed other parts of the law to remain in effect, including the ban on gender-affirming surgery for minors. He also allowed two provisions related to education to remain in effect: one that prohibits school officials from keeping information about a child’s gender identity secret from their parents, and another that prohibits school officials from “encouraging or compelling children to keep certain gender-identity information secret from their parents.”

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall did not immediately return a request for comment Saturday morning.

Dr. Morissa Ladinsky, a plaintiff in one of the suits challenging the law and a co-lead of UAB Pediatrics’ gender health team, said late Friday that the decision “is a huge relief for transgender children and their families. 

“The court’s decision recognizes that this is well established care that has been endorsed by 22 major medical associations,” she said. “This decision will ensure transgender children in Alabama, and beyond, can continue to receive this evidence-based well-known lifesaving care.”

Ladinsky told NBC News after the Legislature passed the bill in March that there were no surgeons in the state who perform gender-affirming surgeries on minors. She said Monday that if the full law had been allowed to remain in effect, it would’ve forced many of her patients to cease their ongoing treatment, because the law had no grandfather clause for transgender youths who were already receiving care.

“That is one of … the most cruel and ignorant parts of the law,” she said. 

Shay Shelnutt, the bill’s primary sponsor, said during a Senate debate in March that the bill seeks to “protect our children” and “stop these surgeries and these drugs on our children,” local news outlet reported.

Heather R. who lives in a small town about an hour northwest of Birmingham with her 15-year-old transgender son, Rob, said Saturday that she feels that the decision gives them some “breathing room.” She asked that her last name be withheld for safety and privacy reasons.

“I am worried this is going to increase violence and harassment toward trans people and their families, so I don’t feel we can start celebrating like it’s over,” she said.

Heather created a GoFundMe account so that she could move her family to a more supportive state. 

“I don’t think it’s going to get better here, and we’re isolated here,” she said after the law took effect. She had originally planned to move to Maryland but recently decided to move to one of the 19 states that are considering legislation to protect transgender youths.

She said lawmakers who support restrictions on gender-affirming care for minors rely on misinformation to support their views and don’t seem to understand that trans kids are just like other kids. Rob said he likes video games, and when asked how many pets the family has, he said his answer would be “lengthy” before adding, “we have two dogs and a pack of cats.”

Though the part of the law that would affect Rob’s medical care has been blocked, at least temporarily, she said the family still plans to move. 

“I do think we need to move somewhere safer so he can have a community of trans and LGBT people to hang out with in his late teens,” she said.

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