Families and doctors sue Alabama over cruel ban on ‘life-saving’ trans healthcare

A person holds up a sign that reads "Trans healthcare saves lives" during a protest

The families of trans teens and doctors are suing Alabama over the state’s new law banning gender-affirming healthcare for trans youth.

On Friday (8 April), governor Kay Ivey signed two bills targeting young trans people and classroom discussions of LGBT+ identities. One bill, Senate Bill 184 (SB 184), makes it a felony for healthcare workers to provide gender-affirming treatments – including puberty blockers, hormone therapy and gender-affirming surgeries – to trans youth. 

If convicted, medical professionals face up to 10 years in prison and a hefty fine for providing what researchers argue is ‘life-saving’ care to trans minors.

Ivey’s signature makes Alabama the latest state in the US to pass legislation restricting gender-affirming care after ArkansasTennessee and Arizona passed various anti-trans healthcare bans. But Alabama is the first state to impose criminal penalties for such care, according to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC). 

Two doctors and two families of trans kids have filed a lawsuit against the state, challenging the new law which is set to go into effect on 8 May. 

The families said in the complaint, which was filed on Monday (11 April), that being denied the medically necessary treatment will be devastating to the mental health of their children. The lawsuit alleges that the new Alabama law violates the Affordable Care Act and the equal protection clause of the US Constitution. 

One plaintiff, referred to as Robert Roe, is the father of a 13-year-old trans girl who is called Mary in the lawsuit. The complaint detailed how it is “essential for Mary’s mental health” that she can receive “puberty-blocking medications every three months” and can receive future medical treatments that her healthcare providers determine are “medically necessary to treat her gender dysphoria”. 

“For Mary to be forced to go through male puberty would be devastating; it would predictably result in her experiencing isolation, depression, anxiety and distress,” the lawsuit continued. “Mary’s parents are also concerned that without access to the puberty-blocking medication she needs, Mary would resort to self-harm as a means of coping with her psychological distress or even attempt suicide.”

Roe said in a press release by the HRC, which is supporting the lawsuit, described how his family has seen “our daughter change from being reclusive and anxious to being an engaged, happy child” after being able to access the “care she needs” to flourish. 

But he said this law threatens “all of this” and “takes away our ability to follow the advice of highly qualified medical professionals”. 

“I was born and raised in Alabama and came back here with my wife to raise our family,” Roe said. “We love this community which has shown us incredible support. But if this law goes into effect we may be forced to leave the state we call home in order to protect our daughter’s life.”

The parents of another trans teen, referred to as John Doe, described in the lawsuit how starting hormone therapy had been “amazing” for the 17-year-old as he was finally able to feel “more like himself, building greater confidence” and is now “happier overall”. 

However, the lawsuit said that John will suffer “devastating physical and psychological consequences” if the trans healthcare ban goes into effect. According to the lawsuit, the teen’s healthcare will be “disrupted” as he won’t be able to access “medications his physicians have prescribed to treat his gender dysphoria” if the law goes into effect and won’t be able to undergo gender-affirming surgery until he “reaches the age of majority, which in Alabama is age 19”. 

Dr Morissa Ladinsky, a third plaintiff, works at the Children’s Hospital of Alabama alongside another plaintiff, Dr Hussein D Abdul-Latif. Both physicians provide medical care to trans youth in Alabama. 

The lawsuit described how Dr Ladinsky has treated and is currently treating “dozens of trans youth people for gender dysphoria” – including the two trans teens listed in the complaint – in her role as a paediatrician as well as co-lead of the multi-disciplinary gender clinic at the UAB Hospital.  

Dr Ladinsky said in a statement that governor Ivey has told “kind, loving and loyal Alabama families that they cannot stay here without denying their children the basic medical care they need” by signing the trans healthcare ban. 

“She has undermined the health and well-being of Alabama children and put doctors like me in the horrifying position of choosing between ignoring the medical needs of our patients or risking being sent to prison,” she said. 

The plaintiffs are represented by a host of LGBT+ and civil rights organisations including the Southern Poverty Law Center, GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and the HRC with King & Spalding LLP and Lightfoot, Franklin & White LLC.