Court hears arguments over Alabama treatment ban for trans youth

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (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 health care to meet children.

A three-judge panel of the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments in Alabama’s appeal of an injunction blocking enforcement of the first law of its kind, which would make it a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison . administer the medication to help transgender minors in their transition.

The arguments in Alabama come three months after the US 8th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed to shelve a similar Arkansas law.

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, asked 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 this decision for your parents.”

Alabama Attorney General Edmund LaCour argued that the state has the power to regulate medical treatments it 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.”

β€œThe 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.

U.S. Judge Andrew Brasher, who was Alabama’s attorney general before his federal court appointment, questioned both sides if the law constituted sex discrimination and if the state had other options for regulation besides an outright ban if he was concerned is the possible overuse of the drugs.

Arkansas was the first state to enact such a treatment ban. A federal judge blocked the Arkansas statute’s enactment last year, and the Court of Appeals upheld the decision. A court case began last month in an attempt to permanently lift 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 Liles Burke issued an injunction in May 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.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey at the time called Burke’s decision to block the drug ban a “temporary legal roadblock.”

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