MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama asked an appellate court Friday to let the state outlaw the use of puberty blockers and hormones to treat transgender children — a move some parents argued violates their right to make decisions about their children’s health care.
A three-judge panel of the 11th U.S Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments in Alabama’s appeal of a preliminary injunction blocking enforcement of the first-of-its-kind law that would make it a felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, to give the medications to assist transgender minors in their transition.
The arguments in Alabama come three months after the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed to keep similar Arkansas law on hold.
The bans have become a flashpoint as Republican-controlled legislatures advanced bills to not only block medical treatment but talso ban transgender children from using school restrooms or playing on sports teams that don’t correspond with their sex at birth.
Jeff Doss, an attorney representing five parents and a pediatrician who challenged the law, urged the court to keep the ban on hold. He said the law is discriminatory and Alabama took the “unprecedented” step of trying to criminalize the accepted standard of care for a medical condition.
“If parental freedom means anything, it means that a parent, not the state, should decide whether their child receives life-saving medical intervention, consistent with the standard of care,” Doss said.
Doss said after court that “it should be chilling for everyone” that the state is trying to tell parents “we know best and we are the ones who are going to make this decision for you parents.”
Edmund LaCour, Alabama’s solicitor general, argued that the state has the authority to regulate medical treatments it deems risky. He disputed arguments that the law discriminated against transgender individuals, because the drugs are still available to everyone, just not “to affect a cosmetic sex change”
“The law does not prohibit any sort of therapy. It doesn’t require that males go by he or that girls wear dresses. All it does is target the risky treatments," LaCour said.
LaCour at one point asked judges to imagine if children wanted to use skin grafts, a treatment for severe burns, to change their race. Doing so would just be too risky, he argued.
Multiple medical groups, including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Medical Association, oppose the ban. The U.S. Justice Department has also opposed the ban as unconstitutional. Fifteen states filed briefs supporting Alabama’s efforts to ban the treatments.
The appellate judges did not indicate when they will rule.
U.S. Circuit Judge Andrew Brasher, who was Alabama's solicitor general before he was appointed to a federal judgeship, asked both sides if the law amounted to sex discrimination and if the state had other regulation options, short of an outright ban, if it was concerned about the possible overuse of the medications.
Arkansas was the first state to enact such a treatment ban. A federal judge last year blocked the Arkansas law from going into effect, and the appellate court upheld the decision. A trial began last month in the lawsuit seeking to permanently strike down the ban.
The Alabama law, dubbed the Vulnerable Child Compassion and Protection Act, went further in putting criminal penalties of people who provide the medications.
U.S. District Judge Liles Burke in May issued a preliminary injunction to stop Alabama from enforcing the medication ban. Burke did not block a portion of the law banning sex-altering surgeries for minors, which doctors testified are not performed in Alabama.
He also left in place a provision that requires counselors and other school officials to tell parents if a minor discloses that they think they are transgender.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey at the time called Burke's ruling blocking the medication ban a “temporary legal roadblock.”
The trial in the ongoing litigation is expected next year, attorneys said.