A Florida federal judge on Tuesday issued a stark assessment of the state’s ban on gender transition assistance for minors, saying in a ruling that families with transgender children who have sued the state will likely overrule their claim that the ban is unconstitutional.
Judge Robert L. Hinkle of the Tallahassee Federal District Court specifically ruled that three transgender children can be prescribed puberty blockers despite the new state law, which also adds new hurdles for adults seeking similar treatment.
But as legal challenges have mounted over new restrictions on transition assistance that have been enacted across the country, Judge Hinkles’ ruling exemplifies the kind of cold reception bans can receive from judges.
Gender identity is real, Judge Hinkle wrote, adding that proper treatment may include mental health therapy followed by puberty blockers and hormone treatments. Florida has adopted a statute and rules that prohibit these treatments even if they are medically appropriate.
The judge issued a preliminary injunction in response to an urgent request from the families of the three children. They and others had sued the state of Florida in March over an administrative ban on gender transition assistance for minors, and then expanded their suit to accept the new law after Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, he signed it on May 17.
The plaintiffs had specifically urged Judge Hinkle to block a portion of the law that prevents doctors and nurses from prescribing or administering transition-related drugs to children, and another portion that exposes health care providers to criminal liability and professional discipline for doing so. .
The injunction granted by Judge Hinkle does not apply to other aspects of the far-reaching legislation, which also bans gender transition surgery for minors, alters child custody statutes to treat transitional care as equivalent to child abuse and prohibits the use of state funds to pay for transitional care.
Even so, the judge wrote dismissively of the arguments offered by the state, calling them a long list of alleged justifications for the statute and rules that were largely specious and, in any case, do not call for a different outcome.
Regarding the states’ contention that the professional associations that approved gender transition assistance had done so for political reasons, the judge wrote: If ever a pot called kettle black, it’s here. The statute and rules were an exercise in politics, not good medicine.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs’ families interpreted Tuesday’s ruling as a possible extension to other transgender minors across the state.
The court addressed the specific issue before it, but also issued a very strong ruling saying the bans are unlikely to survive constitutional scrutiny, said Jennifer Levi, plaintiffs’ attorney and senior director of transgender rights at GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders.
He noted that Judge Hinkles’ 44-page ruling drew conclusions far beyond the scope of the three families in the case. The power of the ruling is to clarify that the law is unconstitutional, she said.
The Florida Department of Health declined to comment on the ruling, citing ongoing litigation.
The legislation codifies policies adopted last year by the Florida Board of Medicine and Governor-appointed Board of Osteopathic Medicine that banned hormone treatments for people under 18 unless they were already receiving such care. Judge Hinkles’ order also temporarily blocked those rules as they affect the three plaintiffs.
The law also provides penalties for doctors who violate it, including prison sentences of up to five years. It goes beyond similar legislation in other states by adding new restrictions for adults receiving transitional care, including requirements for signing consent forms and prescriptions for hormone treatments to be obtained in person instead of through a telehealth appointment.
Under the new law, only doctors can prescribe transition-related drugs; nurses and physician assistants, who have provided care for many patients, can no longer do so. These provisions were not blocked by the judges’ order and remain in effect.
More than a dozen states have enacted bans or other restrictions on transition-related care for children and adolescents in the past year. Proponents say the bans protect children from medical treatments they consider harmful and unproven. But this position challenges much of the medical establishment, which views care as medically necessary and beneficial for some children with gender dysphoria.
Opponents of the Florida law say it stands out as being particularly mean, as the human rights campaign has described it.
The families’ lawyers argued that the law threatened to cause irreparable harm, as parents would be deprived of their basic right to make medical decisions for their children and the children themselves would suffer a cascade of mental and physical harm as a result of the denial of care.
After the bill passed, Planned Parenthood warned patients it would suspend providing gender transition care at its Florida clinics until mid-June so it could develop new consent forms for adults. receiving care and adjust its practices to comply with the new law. Other clinics that relied on nurses to provide care have stopped prescribing it indefinitely.
Before signing the legislation, Mr. DeSantis, who has since announced a presidential bid, criticized puberty blockers and other forms of gender transition assistance for children. This is wrong, and we’re glad we ended it in the state of Florida, he said.
It is wrong to sexualize these children, he added. It is wrong to have a gender ideology and to tell children that they may have been born in the wrong body.
The legislation was part of an avalanche of LGBTQ-focused measures that Florida’s Republican-controlled state legislature passed during its annual session.
Lawmakers have advanced bills requiring public school employees to name students by the pronouns corresponding to the gender on their birth certificate, regardless of the child’s preferences; making it illegal to use toilets in public buildings that do not match the sex of people at birth; and punishing companies that admit minors to adult live entertainment, including drag shows.
Now that a preliminary injunction has been issued, the plaintiffs’ legal recourse to the law will go forward.
It’s unclear how bans on gender transition assistance for minors will eventually end up in the courts. One indication may be imminent: A judge is expected to rule soon on a lawsuit to overturn legislation passed in Arkansas in 2021 that was the first to ban medical care for children and teens seeking gender transitions.
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