Parents Urge Appeals Court to Maintain Block on Alabama Law That Would Criminalize Essential Medical Care for their Transgender Children

by Aryn Fields

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Parents challenging Alabama’s SB 184 have responded to the State’s appeal of a district court ruling that blocked enforcement of the law in May 2022. SB 184 criminalizes parents who seek essential medical care for their transgender children, the doctors who provide this medical care, and anyone else who assists transgender young people to get the care they need.

Under the law, parents, doctors, and others could face up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $15,000. The State of Alabama has appealed the district court’s May 13 order blocking the law from being enforced to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit.

In their brief filed last night, plaintiffs urged the Court of Appeals to keep the injunction against SB 184 in place, citing the district court’s reliance on well-established, evidence-based medical standards and parents’ fundamental right to obtain medical care for their children. At a May hearing before the district court and in related filings, parents testified that being able to access needed care has had an enormously positive impact on their children’s health and that being forced to stop treatment would create devastating consequences for their children’s wellbeing.

The district court blocked enforcement of SB 184 citing substantial evidence that the law seeks to ban established, effective medical care and that doing so would cause severe harm. In its order the court said that plaintiffs are likely to prevail in their claim that SB 184 unconstitutionally discriminates against transgender minors and violates the fundamental right of parents, rather than the state, to make healthcare decisions for their children.

In blocking the law, the district court noted that the State of Alabama presented no evidence to contradict testimony from doctors and medical experts on the well-established safety and efficacy of medical care for transgender youth who experience gender dysphoria, including the fact that over 22 major medical organizations recognize the established course of care for transgender youth.

The suit, Rev. Eknes-Tucker v. Marshall, is brought by five parents on the grounds that it strips them of the right to make important decisions about their children’s healthcare. They are joined by a private practice pediatrician in rural Southeast Alabama, a clinical psychologist with the UAB medical system, and Reverend Paul Eknes-Tucker, Senior Pastor at Pilgrim United Church of Christ in Birmingham, all of whom could face severe criminal penalties if the law were allowed to go into effect. The U.S. Department of Justice has also joined the suit as plaintiff-intervenor challenging the constitutionality of the law which would deny established medical treatments to youth who are transgender but not to others.

Plaintiff Megan Poe, mother of 15-year-old Allison of Northern Alabama:

“While many people may not understand what it means to have a transgender child, I know any parent can relate to worrying about whether your child is healthy and safe. Stopping SB 184 from taking effect has let my family breathe a little easier as my daughter has continued to get the support and care she needs. This law has shined a spotlight on our family’s personal healthcare decisions that we didn’t ask for, but I’m so glad that the district court heard and understood our experience and the experience of other families like ours. My daughter is a confident, engaged and happy teenager today because we are able to provide her care. I hope the court of appeals will see that, too, and keep the injunction against SB 184 in place until we hopefully see it stopped for good.”

Reverend Paul Eknes-Tucker, who has served as Senior Pastor at historic Pilgrim Church UCC since 2015:

“Parents of transgender children in congregations I have served are seeking what all parents want, to find the best path to ensure their kids are happy and healthy. I have sat with concerned parents and I have witnessed how finding the right support and individualized care has addressed their questions and allowed their transgender children to flourish. Allowing SB 184 to go into effect would take away Alabama families’ options for support and would put Alabama kids at risk.”

Dr. Rachel Koe, pediatrician in private practice in rural Southeast Alabama.

“The district court’s ruling blocking SB 184 brought overwhelming relief to parents of transgender children in my practice who, like all parents, want to do what’s best for their kids. It would be unbelievably cruel to put families through that fear again, and it would be devastating to put parents in the position of risking prison or stopping treatment that is enabling their kids to thrive.”

The families challenging SB 184 come from across the state and are proceeding anonymously due to the risk of criminal prosecution as well as for their privacy and safety.

The plaintiffs are represented by Lightfoot, Franklin & White LLC, King & Spalding LLP, GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), SPLC Action Fund (SPLC), and the Human Rights Campaign (HRC).

Jennifer Levi, GLAD Transgender Rights Project Director:

“The district court recognized that parents, not the government, should make decisions about what’s best for their kids’ health and wellbeing. Parents want what’s best for their kids. That’s why preserving parental rights to make healthcare decisions for their children has been such a long-held American value.”

Asaf Orr, NCLR Senior Staff Attorney and Transgender Youth Project Director:

“As the district court said, governments cannot deny transgender adolescents the ability to obtain essential medical care simply because of who they are. Holding otherwise would allow states to enact discriminatory laws that harm young people and intrude into family life."

Sarah Warbelow, HRC Legal Director:

“It is absolutely critical that parents continue to have the autonomy to make these crucial, life-saving decisions for their children—not state lawmakers. It is imperative that the injunction remains in place against this unconstitutional, harmful law that strips parents of their ability to act in the best interest of their child."

Scott McCoy, SPLC Action Fund Interim Deputy Legal Director LGBTQ Rights & Special Litigation:

"Maintaining the injunction against this ill-conceived law is critical to the children and families that rely on this life-affirming and life-saving medical care. We are hopeful that the Court of Appeals will see that the district court got it right in finding that this law is unconstitutional and risks the health and well-being of transgender kids.”

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