Families challenging Florida gender-affirming care restrictions may receive care, judge rules

A Florida judge on Tuesday blocked the enforcement of new state restrictions on gender-affirming health care for three transgender children whose families have challenged them in federal court, ruling that the state has prohibited the administration of treatments “even when medically appropriate.”

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), who launched his bid for the White House this month, in May signed off on a law making it illegal for health care professionals to provide gender-affirming medical interventions including puberty blockers, hormone replacement therapy and surgeries to transgender minors.

Those who violate the law risk being convicted of a third-degree felony crime, punishable by up to five years in prison, according to Florida’s criminal code. The new law additionally limits access to care for transgender adults by significantly narrowing the pool of providers who are able to legally administer treatments and requiring that patients over the age of 18 submit documentation that does not yet exist.

Three Florida families with transgender children sued the state last month, arguing that enforcing the law “will cause irreparable harm” to transgender young people and infringe on their rights as parents to make medical decisions for their children.

The families’ lawsuit was added to a separate legal challenge filed in March against new rules adopted by the state’s two medical boards last year. The rules, which have been widely criticized by health care professionals and LGBTQ civil rights groups, similarly prevent transgender minors from receiving gender-affirming medical care in Florida.

Another rule set by the state’s Health Department in August prohibits transgender Floridians, regardless of their age, from using Medicaid to help pay for gender-affirming health care. That rule is also being challenged in federal court.

In an order issued Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Hinkle wrote that Florida’s bans on gender-affirming medical care likely violate the U.S. Constitution and run counter to best practices and standards of care set by medical experts.

“The elephant in the room should be noted at the outset,” Hinkle wrote Tuesday. “Gender identity is real.”

“There is no rational basis for a state to categorically ban these treatments,” he added.

Gender-affirming health care, for both transgender youths and adults, is backed by most major medical organizations, which say the administration of care is medically necessary and often life saving.

Florida health officials and politicians have accused organizations including the American Medical Association and American Academy of Pediatrics of falsely recommending gender-affirming health care to further an agenda. Last year, Florida’s Health Department claimed a federal government brief on the merits of gender-affirming care was released with the intent of “injecting political ideology into the health of our children.”

“The defendants say, in effect, that the organizations were dominated by individuals who pursued good politics, not good medicine,” Hinkle wrote Tuesday. “If ever a pot called a kettle black, it is here. The statute and the rules were an exercise in politics, not good medicine.”

The plaintiffs are likely to prevail on their claims that the bans are unconstitutional and violate the fundamental rights of parents, according to Hinkle’s order.

In a statement released Tuesday by her attorneys, Jane Doe, who is challenging the state’s restrictions on behalf of herself and her 11-year-old daughter, Susan, celebrated Hinkle’s ruling and said her family has felt powerless since Florida’s gender-affirming health care ban took effect last month.

“I’m sure most any parent can imagine the sense of powerlessness that comes from being unable to do something as basic as get medical care for your child,” she said. “Today my entire family is breathing a huge sigh of relief knowing we can now access the treatment that we know will keep Susan healthy and allow her to continue being the happy, confident child she has been.”

Each of the three families challenging Florida’s gender-affirming health care restrictions are represented by Southern Legal Counsel, GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and the Human Rights Campaign.

Defendants include Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo and state Attorney General Ashley Moody (R), as well as members of the state’s medical boards and several Florida attorneys.

Florida’s Department of Health declined to comment on the decision, saying it did not comment on active litigation.

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