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Alabama transgender drug law blocked by judge

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – A federal judge on Friday blocked part of an Alabama law that made it a crime to prescribe puberty blockers and gender-affirming hormones to transgender minors.

U.S. District Judge Liles Burke issued a preliminary injunction to stop the state from enforcing the drug ban, which took effect May 8, while a trial continues. The ruling was a victory for families and advocacy groups who challenged the first-of-its-kind law as an unlawful intrusion into family and medical decisions. Alabama Governor Kay Ivey called the decision a “temporary legal roadblock.” The Alabama state attorney general has indicated he will appeal.

“This decision means that parents of transgender children in Alabama will continue to be able to make health decisions that are best for their families. It is an extraordinary relief. Parents shouldn’t be punished for wanting to do what’s best for their children,” said Jennifer Levi, Transgender Rights Project Director for GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders.

The Vulnerable Child Compassion and Protection Act has made it a crime, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, to prescribe or administer gender-affirming drugs to transgender minors to help them affirm their new gender identity. The judge left in place another part of the law that banned gender-affirming surgeries for transgender minors, which doctors had testified are not performed on minors in Alabama. It also left in place a provision that requires counselors and other school officials to notify parents if a minor reveals they think they are transgender.

“We will continue to fight to protect the children of Alabama from these radical, unproven and life-changing drugs, despite this temporary legal roadblock,” Ivey said in a statement released Saturday morning. “This is especially important at such a vulnerable stage in their lives. We will continue to uphold our duty to ensure that children are free to grow into the adults God intended them to be, even with societal pressures and modern culture today.

A spokesperson said Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall was disappointed with the court’s decision “and is already working to file an appeal to defend the law.”

Four families with transgender children ages 12 to 17 had filed a lawsuit challenging the Alabama law as discriminatory, an unconstitutional violation of equal protection and free speech rights and an intrusion into family medical decisions. The US Department of Justice joined the lawsuit to strike down the law.

Burke – appointed to the court by former President Donald Trump in 2017 – ruled that Alabama had produced no credible evidence to show that the drugs in transition are “experimental”.

He added that “the undisputed evidence on the record is that at least twenty-two major medical associations in the United States endorse transitioning drugs as well-established, evidence-based treatments for gender dysphoria in minors.” He noted the testimony of a mother who said she feared her child would commit suicide if she lost access to medication.

“Enjoining the Act affirms and reaffirms the ‘enduring American tradition’ that parents — not states or federal courts — play the primary role in the upbringing and care of their children,” Burke wrote in the notice.

Jeff Walker of Auburn, Alabama, told The Associated Press on Saturday that the decision “takes a lot of weight off of us.” The Walker family are not among the plaintiffs in the case, but said they had been scrambling to figure out how to continue caring for their 15-year-old daughter, Harleigh, and whether they needed to move to another state.

Harleigh Walker said the decision was a “huge stress relief”.

The legislation was part of a wave of bills in Republican-controlled states regarding transgender minors, but was the first to impose criminal penalties on doctors who provide the drugs. In Arkansas, a judge blocked a similar law before it took effect.

Dr Morissa Ladinsky, a pediatrician who founded a Birmingham medical team that treats children with gender dysphoria, said the decision was a “huge relief for transgender children and their families”.

“The court’s decision recognizes that this is well-established care that has been endorsed by 22 major medical associations. This decision will ensure that transgender children in Alabama, and beyond, can continue to receive this well-known, evidence-based lifesaving care,” she said.

More than 20 medical and mental health organizations have urged Burke to block the law.

Fifteen states have filed briefs in the case in support of the Alabama law.

The state attorney general’s office has argued that drug use is an unsettled science and therefore the state has a role to play in regulation to protect children. In a court hearing before Burke, state prosecutors argued that European countries were taking a more conservative approach to drugs. Alabama lawmakers, who approved the bill this spring, said drug decisions should wait until adulthood.

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