Florida parents sue to block enforcement of state’s gender-affirming care restrictions

Three Florida families with transgender children are challenging a new state law that bans gender-affirming health care for transgender youths and places heavy restrictions on adult transition-related care in federal court, arguing in a motion filed Wednesday evening that Florida’s Senate Bill 254 violates the U.S. Constitution and “will cause irreparable harm” to each of the plaintiffs.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican who is widely expected to jump into the 2024 presidential election, signed the bill into law Wednesday before a crowd of supporters and conservative state lawmakers in Tampa. The law, which went into effect immediately, prohibits medical professionals in Florida from administering puberty-blocking medications, 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 law also gives Florida courts temporary jurisdiction over a child that “has been subjected to or is threatened with being subjected to sex-reassignment prescriptions or procedures” and makes it easier for minor recipients of gender-affirming health care to sue their providers.

Unlike other, similar measures, the new Florida law also places restrictions on adult access to gender-affirming health care, including by requiring patients older than 18 to sign an informed consent form that does not yet exist before care is able to be legally administered.

It also significantly narrows the pool of providers able to offer gender-affirming health care in the state. Under the new law, only physicians are permitted to administer transition-related care, meaning health care professionals — including physician assistants, nurse practitioners and certified nurse midwives — are unable to provide care that is considered medically necessary by most major medical associations.

In the motion filed Wednesday, plaintiffs Jane Doe, Gloria Goe and Linda Loe, each of whom have a transgender child younger than 18, argue the law is unconstitutional because it discriminates based on sex and transgender status. It also violates their rights as parents to make health care decisions for their children, their motion argues.

The plaintiffs’ challenge to Senate Bill 254 was added Wednesday to a pending lawsuit filed in March in the Northern District of Florida. Four families with young transgender children sued the state after Florida’s medical boards adopted two new rules that significantly limit access to gender-affirming medical care for both transgender youths and adults.

The now-seven-family suit asks the court to block the enforcement of both Senate Bill 254 and the state health care rules, which also prohibit youth from obtaining gender-affirming health care and prevent transgender adults from using Medicaid to help pay for transition-related procedures.

“A temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction will merely maintain the status quo by allowing doctors to provide established medical care without the threat of criminal penalties, civil liability, or loss of licensure, and preventing enforcement of an unconstitutional law serves the public interest,” the lawsuit states.

The suit names Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo and state Attorney General Ashley Moody (R) as defendants, along with members of the Florida Boards of Medicine and Osteopathic Medicine and several state attorneys.

The Florida Department of Health declined to comment, citing pending litigation. Moody’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

The families in Wednesday’s lawsuit are represented by Southern Legal Counsel, GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and the Human Rights Campaign.

“This is a state of emergency for Florida parents, who are already being forced to watch their kids suffer rather than get them the safe and effective healthcare they need and that will allow them to thrive,” the groups wrote Wednesday in a joint statement.

“This law ignores science, unconstitutionally inserts the state into family privacy and parental decision-making, deliberately provokes family conflict by inviting challenges to established custody orders, and tramples on the rights and wellbeing of transgender adolescents,” the groups wrote. “We are asking the court to take swift action to block the ban on access to essential healthcare in SB 254, as well as the Boards of Medicine bans, to stop further harm to transgender youth and their families while the plaintiffs’ case continues.”

Attorneys for the families will appear in court Friday to argue the motions.

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