ACLU sues Missouri to stop transgender health care ban from taking effect
The bill, signed into law by Gov. Mike Parson, bars most transgender minors from accessing puberty blockers and hormone therapy. Opponents cited a provision in the Missouri Constitution "that all persons are created equal and are entitled to equal rights and opportunity under the law."
Opponents of a measure that would bar most transgender minors from accessing gender-affirming care are asking a judge to prevent it from going into effect.
Several law firms filed a lawsuit in Cole County Circuit Court on Tuesdayto block legislation prohibiting transgender youth from obtaining puberty blockers and hormone therapy. It would also bar the state from paying for gender-affirming care for adults who are on Medicaid or incarcerated.
Nora Huppert, a staff attorney at Lambda Legal, said the bill "is the latest chapter in Missouri’s relentless attacks on transgender people, and the stories of the families challenging the law demonstrate the immense, devastating harm it is already inflicting on their lives."
"[The bill] would deny adolescent transgender Missourians access to evidence-based treatment supported by the overwhelming medical consensus," Huppert said. "This law is not just harmful and cruel; it is life-threatening.”
The legislation exempts minors who are already receiving hormone therapy or puberty blockers. The measure would expire after five years unless the legislature extends it.
While Gov. Mike Parson signed the bill into law, it doesn’t go into effect until Aug. 28. The lawsuit is asking a judge to prevent the measure from becoming active.
"The Act was passed over the objection of medical professionals who testified in opposition, and the pleas of families who, like the Family Plaintiffs, stood to lose access to essential and often lifesaving medical care," the lawsuit states. "But the Act is not just cruel, it is also unconstitutional; and absent a preliminary injunction, it will go into effect August 28, 2023, barring the initiation of medically necessary gender-affirming medical care for transgender adolescents, like the Minor Plaintiffs, all across Missouri."
Judges in other states have blocked gender-affirming care bans for minors from taking effect, including in places like Arkansasand Kentucky. Those lawsuits were filed in federal court, and often cited the laws violating the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
The plaintiffs in Missouri are specifically citing a provision in the Missouri Constitution "that all persons are created equal and are entitled to equal rights and opportunity under the law."
"Transgender adolescents in Missouri are currently able to access medical care for the treatment of gender dysphoria," the lawsuit states. "The Act changes that status quo by singling out transgender adolescents for a categorical prohibition on the initiation of medical treatments that are not only safe and effective for the treatment of gender dysphoria, but that also remain available to others, including non-transgender adolescents, for the treatment of other conditions. The Act therefore classifies based on sex and transgender status, triggering heightened equal protection scrutiny."
Missouri lawmakers also passed a bill that bars transgender athletes from participating in high school or college sports that align with their gender identity. It’s part of a broader trend among Republican-leaning states to curtail transgender rights.
"We support everyone's right to his or her own pursuit of happiness," Parson said in a statement after signing the bill. "However, we must protect children from making life-altering decisions that they could come to regret in adulthood once they have physically and emotionally matured."
But Missouri diverged from other states earlier this year when Attorney General Andrew Bailey filed emergency rules that would haveprohibited gender-affirming care for transgender adults as well as minors. A lawsuit ended up blocking that measure from ever going into effect, and Bailey ultimately withdrew the rules after the legislature passed its gender-affirming care ban for minors.
"Extreme politicians in Missouri, like the Attorney General, have made known their desire to ban gender-affirming care throughout the state," said Gillian Wilcox, deputy director of litigation for the ACLU. "This legislation targets very specific, vulnerable populations — young people, those who access health care through Medicaid, and incarcerated individuals — to replace private medical decisions with the will of politicians in Jefferson City."
Bailey said in a statement he would fight to preserve the gender affirming care ban, adding that Missouri is "not going to let left-wing ideologues experiment on children here in the state of Missouri.”
Bailey has said that the Food and Drug Administration has not approved puberty blockers or hormone therapy to treat gender dysphoria in children. But medical groups such as the American Medical Association said in 2021 that gender-affirming care is “medically-necessary, evidence-based care that improves the physical and mental health of transgender and gender-diverse people.”
This story will be updated.
Copyright 2023 St. Louis Public Radio. To see more, visit St. Louis Public Radio.