Idaho asks Supreme Court to allow enforcement of gender-affirming care ban

Idaho has asked the Supreme Court to take emergency action so the state can enforce its felony ban on gender-affirming health care for transgender minors, arguing that a district court’s injunction goes too far.

Idaho in April became the second state, after Alabama, to make it a felony for health care providers to administer treatments including puberty blockers, hormones and surgeries to transgender young people. Doctors that provide care could face up to a decade in prison and $5,000 in fines.

Three other states have since followed suit in enacting bans that carry felony charges, and nearly half the country now heavily restricts or bans gender-affirming health care for transgender minors.

A federal judge in December temporarily blocked Idaho’s ban — known as the Vulnerable Child Protection Act — just days before it was slated to take effect. In issuing the preliminary injunction, U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill wrote that gender-affirming medical care, when provided in accordance with guidelines set by the World Professional Association of Transgender Health and the Endocrine Society, “is safe, effective, and medically necessary for some adolescents.”

Idaho Attorney General Raúl Labrador (R) appealed Winmill’s decision in January, but a three-judge panel for the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals denied it in a one-sentence order. The same three-judge panel denied Labrador’s second appeal for the full 9th Circuit to reconsider the injunction.

Labrador in an emergency motion filed Friday said district courts cannot prevent states from enforcing laws against individuals that are not directly involved in litigation and requested that the Supreme Court narrow Winmill’s order to cover only the two transgender teenagers challenging Idaho’s law, rather than all of the state’s trans minors.

“Every day Idaho’s law remains enjoined exposes vulnerable children to risky and dangerous medical procedures and infringes Idaho’s sovereign power to enforce its democratically enacted law,” Labrador wrote in the emergency motion, which was filed with the assistance of attorneys from the conservative Christian legal group Alliance Defending Freedom and the law firm Cooper & Kirk.

“Meanwhile, Plaintiffs suffer no harm at all—let alone irreparable harm—if the injunction applies to them but not to others,” they wrote in the motion, which was made public by Labrador’s office Monday.

Legal challenges to state laws banning gender-affirming care for transgender minors have been met with mixed results, and federal appeals courts have split on whether such bans are constitutional. Individuals on either side have called for the Supreme Court to weigh in.

In November, three Tennessee families with transgender children and a doctor asked the Supreme Court to prevent the state from enforcing its ban on gender-affirming care for youth, which had been blocked by a temporary injunction before a panel of the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals accepted a request from Tennessee’s attorney general to lift it.

Conflicting court decisions are “creating chaos across the country for adolescents, families, and doctors,” attorneys for the plaintiffs wrote in November.

“Neither the wave of state bans on gender-affirming medication nor the lawsuits challenging them are likely to abate in the near future,” they added. “Given the division among the courts of appeals on the appropriate level of scrutiny in these and related cases, any delay in this Court’s review only risks subjecting transgender adolescents, their parents, and their doctors to a patchwork of inconsistent laws and legal standards that obstruct their medical care.”

The Supreme Court has so far been hesitant to intervene in transgender health care disputes, although two of the court’s leading conservatives — Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas — appear eager to wade into cases implicating transgender protections.

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