A new Alabama law banning certain medical treatments for children with gender dysphoria goes into effect today, unless a federal judge agrees to a request for temporary suspension while a lawsuit is pending.
US District Judge Liles Burke said Friday that he and his staff were spending all their time preparing an order, but did not say how or when he would rule.
Alabama law is the first in the country to actually go into effect. The Alabama Vulnerable Child Compassion and Protect Act makes it a criminal offense to provide puberty blockers, hormones and surgery for the purpose of helping transgender children, people under the age of 19, transition to the gender they identify with. Violators of the law face a sentence of up to 10 years in prison.
Governor Kay Ivey signed the bill on April 8, a day after the Alabama legislature passed. It takes effect 30 days after signing, which is 8 May.
The parents of four transgender youths between the ages of 12 and 17 have filed a lawsuit claiming that the law would deprive their children of access to established medical care that is safe, effective and necessary. They say it violates federal law and the Constitution. They are joined in the case by a child psychologist who assists transgender young people at the UAB hospital, a pediatrician and a pastor. The United States Department of Justice opposes the law and has joined the case.
The plaintiffs asked the court to issue a preliminary injunction to stop the execution of the law while the case is pending with the aim of permanently blocking it.
Judge Burke held a three-day hearing last week, hearing testimony from plaintiffs, the state, and the Justice Department. The parties filed briefs and statements from witnesses in support of their positions.
Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall and his attorneys are defending the law. The state and its expert witnesses acknowledge that young people with gender dysphoria face severe stress and an increased risk of depression and suicide. But they say medical interventions should only be available to adults because of the risks and uncertainty about the long-term risks of treatments, such as loss of sexual function and infertility, that minors may regret as adults. They say a watchful and expectant approach with mental health counseling.
Following Friday’s hearing, Burke told lawyers from all sides to start preparing for the trial. The judge said he was expecting an expedited case, which he said meant in about six months.
Last year, Arkansas became the first state to ban medical care for transgender youth. A federal judge temporarily blocked the law in July, a week before it went into effect.
Jeffrey Doss, an attorney for the plaintiffs in the Alabama case, said they are not contesting the ban on surgeries performed to help transgender minors transition. During discussions on the bill in the legislature, Alabama doctors said that no operations of this type are performed in the state.
Alabama lawmakers passed the bill on the last day of this year’s legislative session. It was the third year that the bill was presented and discussed with public hearings that filled the committee rooms with both opponents and defenders of the law and rallies at the State House of opponents of the law.
Read more: Alabama doctors race to get appointments, prescriptions for trans kids before ban goes into effect.
Read more: Alabama clergy signs letter of support for transgender children.