Legal bid to halt Missouri's gender-affirming care restrictions gets a court hearing this week
Beginning Monday, Missouri will ban most transgender minors from receiving hormone therapy or puberty blockers. Opponents say the new law violates the Missouri Constitution's equal protection guarantees.
Opponents of a law that would bar most transgender minors from accessing gender-affirming care in Missouri will get a hearing this week in Springfield.
A number of plaintiffs filed a lawsuit earlier this summerseeking to block a law that prohibits transgender minors from receiving care such as puberty blockers or hormone therapy to treat gender dysphoria. The suit contends that the law violates constitutional rights to equal protection.
“Just as one cannot be discriminated against because of their sex under the federal equal protection clause, the same applies for Missourians under the Missouri Constitution,” said Gillian Wilcox, the ACLU of Missouri’s deputy director of litigation, in late July. “And so that is the claim that this is sex discrimination. Because Missourians are being targeted both because of their transgender status and because of their sex assigned at birth. And the medication that they are allowed or not allowed to receive is based solely on that status.”
The attorneys are seeking to stop the new law from going into effect next Monday. Wilcox said it is “almost hard to express what is at stake for families, for parents and for children.”
“These are young children, some of whom transitioned at very young ages. They’ve been insistent, persistent and consistent in their gender identity as different as their sex assigned at birth,” Wilcox said. “And what this law and this government is doing is not only discriminating because of their transgender status, but also their parents’ rights away and the child’s own right to their own health care that individuals in Missouri. All of those rights are being taken away simply because of transgender status.”
In response, Attorney General Andrew Bailey’s officefiled a brief that contends that the law doesn’t violate equal protection guidelines because it applies to “any individual.” It added that the court “should reject Plaintiffs’ attempt to block critical legislation designed to protect children.”
“The [law] makes no distinction based on sex or gender, or even transgender status. It applies evenly to boys and girls,” Bailey’s brief stated. “The only distinction made is based on the condition to be treated.”
Republican Sen. Mike Moon of Ash Grove, the sponsor of the bill in question, said in a statement that it’s not unusual for lawmakers to place age restrictions “on certain procedures and processes due to an individual’s lack of maturity in the past.”
“In simple terms, [the bill] acts as a pause button,” Moon said in his statement.
Wilcox said Moon’s argument doesn’t hold water because “there’s a big difference between different types of laws that target a specific audience of people for a specific reason.”
“And this is sex discrimination, because the only basis for targeting this group of individuals is because of their transgender status or their sex assigned at birth — which is different from what they identity currently,” Wilcox said.
A common path
Opponents of similar gender-affirming care bans in other states have argued, with some success, that the measures violate constitutional guarantees to equal protection. That occurred earlier this week in Georgia.
While federal judges have frozen gender-affirming care bans in Tennessee and Kentucky, Bailey’s brief notes that federal appellate courts have allowed those laws to take effect.
“The science is on our side. We’re feeling confident going into next week,” Bailey said in a statement on the social media platform X. “Missouri’s children are worth the fight.”
But unlike other challenges, the consortium of lawyers are asking a state judge, and not a federal one, to stop the law from going into effect next Monday. Wilcox said that state courts are an appropriate venue because there are guarantees for equal protection in Missouri’s Constitution.
Kelly Gillespie, a professor of law at St. Louis University, said it’s not unusual for plaintiffs to use a state constitution, as opposed to the federal one, as a means of striking down a measure.
“Because a lot of the things we think about and that we're more familiar with in terms of the federal constitution, like equal protection and due process — those kinds of provisions also exist in state constitutions,” Gillespie said. “Although their wording may vary a bit, by and large, they exist in state constitutions as well.”
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