Court hears arguments over Alabama treatment ban for trans youth

Protesters in support of transgender rights march around the Alabama State House in Montgomery, Alabama on Tuesday, March 2, 2021. (Jake Crandall//The Montgomery Advertiser via AP)

Alabama petitioned an appeals court on Friday to have the state ban the use of puberty blockers and hormones to treat transgender children — a move some parents have argued violates their right to make decisions about their children’s health care.

A three-judge panel of the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments in Alabama’s appeal from a injunction suspension enforcement the first law of its kind that would make it a crime, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, to give the drugs to help transgender minors in their transition.

The arguments in Alabama come three months after the 8th US Circuit Court of Appeals agreed comply with a similar Arkansas law on hold.

The bans have become a flashpoint as Republican-controlled lawmakers have introduced legislation that not only blocks medical treatment but also bans transgender children from using school bathrooms or playing on sports teams who aren’t their sex at birth correspond to.

Jeff Doss, an attorney representing five parents and a pediatrician who challenged the law, urged the court to uphold the ban. He said the law was discriminatory and that Alabama took the “unprecedented” step of criminalizing the accepted standard of care for a disease.

“If parental freedom means anything, it means that a parent, not the state, should decide whether their child receives life-saving medical intervention that meets the standard of care,” Doss said.

Doss said after the court that “it should be terrifying for everyone” that the state is trying to tell parents, “We know best, and we’re the ones who are going to make that decision for your parents.”

Edmund LaCour, Attorney General of Alabama, argued that the state has the power to regulate medical treatments that he deems risky. He denied arguments that the law discriminates against transgender people because the drugs are still available to everyone, just not “to effect a cosmetic gender reassignment.”

“The law does not prohibit any therapy. It is not necessary for men to walk past him or for girls to wear dresses. It’s just targeting the risky treatments,” LaCour said.

LaCour once asked judges to consider whether children would want to use skin grafts, a treatment for severe burns, to change their race. That would just be too risky, he argued.

Several medical groups, including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Medical Association, oppose the ban. The US Department of Justice has also rejected the ban as unconstitutional. Fifteen states have filed briefs supporting Alabama’s efforts to ban the treatments.

The appeal judges have not indicated when they will decide.

US judge Andrew Brasherwho was Attorney General of Alabama before being appointed to a federal judgeship, questioned both sides if the law constituted sex discrimination and if the state had other options for regulation besides an outright ban if it was concerned about potential overuse of the state medication.

Arkansas was the first state to enact such a treatment ban. A federal judge blocked the Arkansas law from going into effect last year court of appeal confirmed the decision. A study began suing last month to permanently crack down on the ban.

Alabama’s statute, known as the Vulnerable Child Compassion and Protection Act, went even further, imposing criminal penalties on people providing the drugs.

US District Judge Lilies Burke published in May a interim disposal to prevent Alabama from enforcing the drug ban. Burke did not block any part of the law that bans sex-altering surgeries on minors, which doctors say are not performed in Alabama.

He also left a provision requiring counselors and other school officials to inform parents when a minor discloses that he thinks he is transgender.

Governor of Alabama Kay Ivey at the time called Burke’s decision blocking the drug ban a “temporary legal roadblock.”

Trial in the ongoing lawsuit is expected next year, lawyers said.

Republished with permission from The Associated Press.