Four families, two physicians and a minister filed suit Tuesday against Alabama’s ban on medical treatment for transgender youth, saying it violates constitutional protections of due process and free speech.
The legal challenge incorporates arguments made in two prior legal actions filed against SB 184, saying it interferes in family medical choices and subjects physicians who follow accepted medical practice to criminal prosecution.
“The healthcare provider plaintiffs, and parents of transgender minors . . . are forced to choose between withholding medically necessary treatment from their minor transgender patients or children, on the hand, or facing criminal prosecution on the other,” the lawsuit said. “Moreover, the broad language of the Act imposes content-based restrictions on discussions, counseling, or referrals regarding gender dysphoria treatments for well-recognized in the medical community that may result in such care being provided to a transgender minor.”
The suit names Gov. Kay Ivey; Attorney General Steve Marshall and four district attorneys, including Montgomery County District Attorney Daryl Bailey, as defendants. Groups representing the plaintiffs include GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders (GLAD), the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and the Human Rights Campaign (HRC).
Gina Maiola, a spokeswoman for Ivey, wrote in an email Thursday that the governor’s office was “prepared to defend our Alabama values and this legislation.” Marshall said in a statement that his office would “defend this law and Alabama’s children from the dangerous, ideologically-driven medical interventions being pressed on them.”
SB 184, sponsored by Sen. Shay Shelnutt, R-Trussville and signed into law by Ivey on April 8, makes it a Class C felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, for a physician to prescribe puberty blockers and hormones to transgender youth under the age of 19, though it does allow their use for other medical conditions. The law also bans genital surgeries on youth, which health care professionals have said are not performed in Alabama, and reconstructive surgeries involving the removal of “any healthy or non-diseased body part or tissue.”
The law also forbids public and private school workers from withholding “information related to a minor’s perception that his or her gender or sex is inconsistent with his or her sex.”
Unless a court blocks it, SB 184 will go into effect on May 8.
The lawsuit says the four children in the lawsuit, aged 12 to 17, suffered from physical and psychological problems before coming out as transgender. Three of the four children are on puberty blockers or hormone treatments. One of the plaintiffs, a 15-year-old named Allison Poe, is on hormones. The lawsuit says SB 184 would disrupt her care, causing her “extreme anxiety and distress” and leading to the development of “physical traits that are inconsistent with her identity as a girl that will require her to undergo otherwise avoidable surgeries in the future as an adult.”
The mother of Poe, identified as Megan Poe in the lawsuit and a statement released by GLAD, said access to medical care was critical to her daughter’s well-being.
“With that support and care Allison has become a confident and social teenager who is thriving in school,” Megan Poe said in a statement. “Without it, I’m terrified she will again become withdrawn, depressed, or even worse. I only want what’s best for my daughter, like any parent. For the state to take away my ability to provide that essential care and support is unthinkable.”
The lawsuit also focuses on language in SB 184 that bans actions that “cause” transgender youth or their families to seek treatment. It says Rev. Paul Eknes-Tucker, a Birmingham minister who works with transgender youth and one of the plaintiffs in the suit, could face prosecution “for his pastoral work as it could ‘cause’ a transgender minor to begin medical treatments for their gender dysphoria.”
The two medical providers, named Dr. Rachel Koe and Jane Moe, said the law would force them to withhold information about medical care from their patients, violating their legal and professional obligations to their patients. Koe said it would also violate her right to free speech and possibly jeopardize Medicaid funding for all services she provides.
All the plaintiffs except Ecknes-Tucker are using pseudonyms, citing privacy concerns and fears of criminal prosecution.
The lawsuit says the act violates the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution by criminalizing anyone who “causes” someone to obtain treatments banned under the act, and violates the 14th Amendment’s due process and equal protection clauses by preventing families from obtaining “medical treatments that are recognized to be safe, effective, and medically necessary to protect their children’s health and well-being” and by denying transgender youth access to the medications while allowing them for non-transgender youth.
The lawsuit also says the law violates the non-discrimination clauses of the Affordable Care Act.
Plaintiffs withdrew two separate lawsuits filed against the law last Friday, following a ruling that would have consolidated them in the U.S. Northern District of Alabama. The state accused the plaintiffs of “judge shopping;” an attorney for the plaintiffs said they had heard from other families concerned about the lawsuit.
Contact Montgomery Advertiser reporter Brian Lyman at 334-240-0185 or [email protected].