Court revives Alabama ban on transgender youth treatment, judge blocks Georgia law

By Nate Raymond and Brendan Pierson

(Reuters) – A U.S. appeals court on Monday revived a Republican-backed Alabama law banning the use of puberty blocking drugs and hormones to treat gender dysphoria in transgender minors, a day after a judge blocked a similar Georgia law.

A three-judge panel of the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said that the families and physicians challenging the law “have not presented any authority that supports the existence of a constitutional right” for parents to treat their children with “transitioning medications subject to medically accepted standards.”

U.S. Circuit Judge Barbara Lagoa, writing for the panel, said Alabama has “a compelling interest in protecting children from drugs, particularly those for which there is uncertainty regarding benefits, recent surges in use, and irreversible effects.”

All three judges on the panel were appointed by former President Donald Trump, a Republican. The administration of current President Joe Biden, a Democrat, intervened in the case on the side of the families.

“Our clients are devastated by this decision, which leaves them vulnerable to what the district court – after hearing several days of testimony from parents, doctors, and experts – found to be irreparable harm as a result of losing the medical care they have been receiving and that has enabled them to thrive,” legal organizations representing the plaintiffs – including GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders, Human Rights Campaign and others – said in a statement.

“The 11th Circuit reinforced that the State has the authority to safeguard the physical and psychological wellbeing of minors, even if the United States Attorney General and radical interest groups disapprove,” Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall said in a statement.

U.S. District Judge Liles Burke, also a Trump appointee, had issued a preliminary order blocking the Alabama law last May.

The 11th Circuit’s ruling came a day after U.S. District Judge Sarah Geraghty in Atlanta issued an injunction blocking a similar Georgia law in response to a challenge by parents of transgender children.

Georgia Attorney General Christopher Carr, a Republican who is defending the law, said he planned to appeal. That appeal will also be heard by the 11th Circuit.

Geraghty, a Biden appointee, said the ban was discriminatory because it “places a special burden on transgender minors because their gender identity does not match their birth sex.”

Republican lawmakers in several states have passed such laws restricting medical treatments for transgender minors. Many have been blocked in court challenges, with judges finding they discriminate by sex and interfere with parents’ right to direct their children’s treatment.

Another federal appeals court, the St. Louis, Missouri-based 8th Circuit, previously refused to reinstate a similar Arkansas law. Such conflicts between appellate courts can make it more likely that an issue will eventually end up before the U.S. Supreme Court, though the cases over gender-affirming care are still in their early stages.

Supporters of the laws say so-called gender-affirming treatments like puberty blockers and hormones are unproven and risky, while opponents say they have been shown to improve mental health in transgender children.

(Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by David Gregorio and Stephen Coates)