An Alabama Law criminalizing gender-affirming care for transgender youth went into effect over the weekend, marking the first of such laws fully enacted in the United States.
The new law, which lists hormonal treatment and other gender-affirming care given to youth under 19 as a Class B felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison, has already accrued a number of lawsuits challenging its legality since its passage during the 2022 legislative session. The U.S Department of Justice has also filed suit in an attempt to block the law’s enactment.
On Friday, U.S. District Judge Liles Burke heard one such lawsuit but, as of Sunday, has yet to rule on a motion seeking to halt the enforcement of the new law. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of four families, each with transgender youth, each of whom said the new law violates the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S Constitution and prohibits them and other transgender youth from obtaining medically necessary care.
The families proceeded anonymously for fear of criminal prosecution under the new law and stated the law endangers the physical and mental health of their children.
More than twenty medical and mental health professionals testified before Judge Burke the previous Thursday, arguing that the new law forces doctors to choose between violating their Hippocratic oath or risk being prosecuted for providing medically essential care to transgender youth. The doctors also emphasized the in-depth process of determining a minor’s readiness for gender-affirming care and how administering short-term puberty-blocking medication in the early stages of the care ensures the process is reversible if the patient and their families so choose.
State attorneys argued whether minors should be allowed to consent to cross-sex hormonal treatment and whether medical research could show if minors receiving gender-affirming care would continue with the care if puberty were allowed to progress.
The doctors testifying stressed the increased potential for self-harm and suicide amongst transgender youth who are denied gender-affirming care. Transgender youth are disproportionality at risk for suicide and self-harm when compared to non-transgender youth, with 29 percent of transgender youth reporting they have attempted suicide, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Medical studies show that gender-affirming care decreases the reported numbers of depression, self-harm, and suicide among transgender youth, with marked increases in overall mental health.
A recent report on the new law found the medical research used to justify criminalizing gender-affirming treatment for transgender youth was scientifically flawed and hinged on misleading scientific claims. The report, published by the Yale School of Medicine, found the medical claims in the law are “not grounded in reputable science and are full of errors of omission and inclusion.”
In July of 2021, a similar law in Arkansas was blocked by federal judges, with the court finding the Arkansas law would harm already transgender youth receiving gender-affirming treatment.