Oklahoma judge upholds Legislature’s ban on gender-affirming care for minors

ACLU of Oklahoma and other legal groups will appeal the decision

By: - October 6, 2023 4:17 pm

A federal judge on Thursday struck a blow to a concerted legal effort to overturn a new state law banning gender-affirming care for minors. (Getty Images.) (This image cannot be republished unless you have a subscription to Getty.)

OKLAHOMA CITY — A federal judge on Thursday upheld a state law banning gender-affirming care for minors, saying the measure does not discriminate against transgender children.

Judge John Heil III declined to put on hold the new law that bans gender-transition surgeries and hormone treatments for minors following a lawsuit from five transgender youth and a medical professional.

Implementation of the law had been on hold since May pending the ruling due to an agreement between the parties involved in the lawsuit.

It can now be enforced.

Calling the decision “completely out of step with all other federal trial courts,” the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma, Lambda Legal and the law firm of Jenner & Block LLP said they will appeal Heil’s decision.

“This is a devastating result for transgender youth and their families in Oklahoma and across the region,” the groups said in a joint statement. “Denying transgender youth equality before the law and needlessly withholding the necessary medical care their families and their doctors know is right for them has caused and will continue to cause serious harm.”

Senate Bill 613 is not an outright ban on gender-affirming care because it only tells minors they must wait until they reach a certain age to seek treatment, Heil wrote in a 36-page order detailing his decision. The judge, who was appointed by former President Donald Trump, added that the law does not discriminate against those who deviate from stereotypical gender norms.

The issue of setting parameters for gender-affirming care relates to the state because it pertains to the Oklahoma Legislature’s interests in protecting children, public health and the integrity of the medical profession, wrote Heil, a judge in the Northern District in Tulsa.

“This (is) an area in which medical and policy debate is unfolding and the Oklahoma Legislature can rationally take the side of caution before permitting irreversible medical treatments of its children,” he wrote.

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The transgender Oklahoma youth, a doctor who specializes in gender-affirming care, the ACLU of Oklahoma and other legal groups challenged the law on the grounds that it unfairly targets trans children and denies them their right to care under equal protection laws.

Because the judge only ruled on the plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction, litigation in the case will continue.

Stitt signed in May a new law that immediately banned gender-transition surgeries for minors, which are rare. The law also imposes a ban on puberty blockers and hormone-therapy treatments for minors, although there is a six-month grace period before that provision takes effect.

The governor praised Heil’s ruling.

“I am pleased with the court’s decision to uphold Oklahoma’s common-sense law protecting children from dangerous, permanent sex change surgeries,” Stitt said in a statement. “Here in Oklahoma, we protect our kids. Plain and simple.”

The governor has railed against irreversible gender-transition surgeries since last year when the Oklahoma Legislature gave OU Health an ultimatum to stop offering some gender-affirming care or risk losing millions of dollars in federal funding earmarked for hospital improvements.

At the time, Stitt urged the Legislature to send him a bill to ban gender-transition surgeries and hormone therapies for minors. The GOP-led Legislature quickly delivered on his request with SB 613 from Sen. Julie Daniels, R-Bartlesville, and Rep. Toni Hasenbeck, R-Elgin.

While legal proceedings were ongoing, Attorney General Gentner Drummond’s office agreed the state would not enforce the provisions of SB 613. Stitt’s office criticized the agreement that Drummond’s office said should not be interpreted as any sort of legal concession.

“The Attorney General’s Office continues to fulfill its duty to defend Senate Bill 613 and has won a ruling that results in full enforcement of that law,” Drummond spokesperson Phil Bacharach said in a statement Friday.

Health care providers who knowingly violate SB 613 could be charged with a felony and have their medical license revoked. They could also face a civil lawsuit from a friend or family member of the child receiving gender-affirming care.

The law defines banned health care procedures as “medical or surgical services performed for the purpose of attempting to affirm the minor’s perception of his or her gender or biological sex, if that perception is inconsistent with the minor’s biological sex.”

SB 613 does not ban behavioral health services, counseling or medication to treat depression or anxiety.

Republicans in state legislatures across the nation have filed a raft of bills to limit or ban gender-affirming care. Judges in several other states have paused, blocked or overturned some laws limiting gender-affirming care.



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Carmen Forman
Carmen Forman

Carmen covers state government, politics and health care from Oklahoma City. A Norman native, she previously worked in Arizona and Virginia before she began reporting on the Oklahoma Capitol.