Judge weighs request to block Alabama transgender law

Alabama will ban the use of puberty blockers and hormones to treat transgender minors starting Sunday, unless a federal judge rules on a request to prevent the law from taking effect.

The US Department of Justice and parents of transgender children asked the judge to block the state from enforcing the law while a lawsuit against him continues. U.S. District Judge Liles Burke, noting that the lawsuit was filed in mid-April, said he and his staff would do “nothing else” but work on a decision even though it might not come before the date of entry into force of the law.

“I can’t say if it’s going to come out tomorrow or the day after or the day after,” Burke said Friday. His comment came at the end of a two-day hearing on the injunction request.

The Vulnerable Child Compassion and Protection Act will make it a felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, for doctors and others who provide the drugs to transgender people under 19. The US Department of Justice and four families with transgender children have filed a lawsuit challenging the law as discriminatory, an unconstitutional violation of equal protection and free speech rights, and intrusion into family medical decisions.

Dr. Morrisa Ladinsky, a pediatrician who runs a gender clinic that treats children with gender dysphoria, said after the hearing that it seems likely the law will come into effect on Sunday. But she still hoped it would only be for a short time.

“It would be natural for any family with a transgender child to feel anxious, afraid and in a state of uncertainty,” she said when asked how her patients were feeling. “So hopefully the wheels of justice will work as they should, and we can put those anxieties to rest sooner rather than later.”

Jeff Doss, an attorney representing parents and others challenging the ban, said the law would harm the very children the state claims to protect by depriving them of medical treatments backed by medical associations. Twenty-three medical and mental health organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, also urged the judge to enjoin the law.

“It supersedes parental judgment and replaces it with state judgment … that no child should be given these drugs,” Doss told Burke in his closing arguments.

Alabama lawyers argued that the ban should be allowed.

“The state has broad discretion to regulate areas of medical uncertainty,” Alabama solicitor general Judge Edmund LaCour told Judge Edmund LaCour in closing arguments. European countries, he argued, take a more guarded approach to the use of drugs with children.

During the hearing, Burke posed several questions to the attorneys, including asking who drafted the legislation and whether the parents could be sued for driving their children to another state to receive the drugs. State prosecutors said it was drafted by lawmakers, news outlets reported. LaCour replied that he did not think parents would trigger the law by taking their children elsewhere.

A parent, testifying in a closed courtroom for confidentiality reasons, described the benefits his child received, Doss said.

“She sees incredible positive and transformative benefits from these treatments that the state has labeled as risky,” Doss said.

Witnesses for the state included a psychologist who said children may look to the transgender label to explain feelings of being different or unhappy, but these feelings often dissipate by puberty. Cross-examined by Melody Eagan, James Cantor acknowledged that he dealt with adults in his practice, not children.

Sydney Wright, 23, testified she regretted the lingering effects and possible infertility from being prescribed testosterone at age 19 by a doctor in Georgia. Wright said at the time that she desperately wanted treatments to become a man, but “at the end of every day, I was a woman,” she said.

Lawyers noted during cross-examination that Wright, at 19, would not have been affected by the law.