Metro Weekly

Judge Allows Oklahoma to Enforce Ban on Gender-Affirming Care

Federal judge rules that Oklahoma has a vested interest in protecting youth from pursuing transition-related care before adulthood.

Oklahoma Governor J. Kevin Stitt – Photo: Office of the Governor

A federal judge declined to issue an order blocking the state of Oklahoma from enforcing its ban on gender-affirming care for minors. Health providers who provide access to hormones, puberty blockers, or surgical interventions can now be charged with a felony.

U.S. District Court Judge John Frederick Heil III, of the Northern District of Oklahoma, ruled last Thursday that the state’s law prohibiting minors from accessing various forms of transition-related care is not an “outright ban” because it does not restrict adults from accessing such procedures or treatments.

“SB 613 requires only that, to the extent an individual desires to utilize certain physiological procedures to treat the psychological condition of gender dysphoria, he or she must wait until a certain age to do so,” Heil wrote in his opinion.

Heil also found that the state has a “legitimate state interest” in advising doctors to refrain from prescribing transition-related treatments to minors.

He found that because those challenging the law have failed to establish a “fundamental right” of parents to permit their children to receive gender-affirming treatments, the state can regulate such medical procedures as it sees fit. 

“This 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 added, citing similar rulings by the 6th and 11th U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeals allowing bans in other states to go into effect.

The ban on gender-affirming care — which was prioritized by the Republican-dominated state legislature and signed into law by Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt — was challenged in May by a group of plaintiffs, including five families with transgender adolescents and a doctor who specializes in treating transgender youth.

The plaintiffs had argued the law discriminates against transgender youth and denies them the right of equal protection under the law, and also infringes on the right of parents to make medical decisions they believe are in their children’s best interests, reports The Hill.

Shortly after the bill was signed into law, lawyers for the plaintiffs were able to negotiate a binding agreement with the office of Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond, in which Drummond’s office would agree not to enforce the law until a judge granted or rejected their request for a preliminary injunction. 

Now, with Heil’s ruling, Drummond’s office has indicated it will begin enforcing the law — including prosecuting doctors who prescribe transition-related treatments. 

“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,” the office’s press secretary, Leslie Berger, told The Hill in a statement. 

Bans on gender-affirming care have passed in 22 states throughout the country, with provisions finding doctors who prescribe the prohibited treatments are guilty of “unprofessional conduct,” and often allowing youth who have received such treatments to later sue their doctors for decades afterward if they at any time in the future regret their decision.

Five of those laws — in Oklahoma, Alabama, Florida, Idaho, and North Dakota — also allow doctors to be prosecuted with felonies for providing such care, with Alabama’s law imposing a specific sentence of up to 10 years in prison.

In a joint statement, the organizations representing the plaintiffs — Lambda Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Oklahoma, and the law firm Jenner & Block — pledged to appeal Heil’s decision, which they called “devastating” for transgender youth and their families.

“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. But this is not the end,” the plaintiffs’ lawyers said in their statement.

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