By Melissa Davlin, Idaho Reports
Two Idaho families are suing to block Idaho’s ban on gender affirming healthcare for transgender minors.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court on Thursday, argues the ban is unconstitutional, as it violates the Fourteenth Amendment right to equal protection by singling out treatments specific to transgender minors. Plaintiffs also claim it infringes on parents’ Fourteenth Amendment due process right to make decisions on their children’s healthcare, and in its sweeping application, has no exceptions.
“Burdens on this right are subject to strict scrutiny,” the lawsuit says. “But the Healthcare Ban does not satisfy any level of constitutional scrutiny because it serves no governmental interest whatsoever, let alone a compelling one.”
The American Civil Liberties Union is representing the families. Attorney General Raúl Labrador, Ada County Prosecuting Attorney Jan Bennetts, and members of the Idaho Code Commission are named as defendants in the lawsuit.
Labrador’s office declined to comment on pending litigation.
The law, set to go into effect on July 1, bans surgeries for transgender children, as well as the use of hormone blocking medications commonly referred to as puberty blockers, and a variety of other medications used for transgender therapies. Those therapies would be allowed for medically verifiable sex development disorders.
Doctors who violate the law would face up to 10 years in prison.
Gender dysphoria is medically diagnosed when a person’s experienced gender, or gender identity, does not match the gender associated with their biological sex at birth.
The lawsuit points out that the same treatments that are criminalized for transgender youth are allowed for minors with certain medical conditions, such as testosterone for polycystic ovarian syndrome or delayed puberty, or puberty delaying medication for premature initiation of puberty.
Thursday’s filing outlines personal stories of the two minor plaintiffs who are already receiving treatment for gender dysphoria: 15-year-old Pam Poe and 16-year-old Jane Doe. Both families said their daughters’ mental health improved after receiving hormone therapy.
“Pam is scared that losing access to her medication will mean that her body will undergo unwanted, permanent changes that are inconsistent with her gender identity,” the filing says. “Pam and her parents worry about the severe stress and anxiety associated with Pam’s gender dysphoria returning if she is forced to stop gender-affirming medical care.”
Both families are considering moving out of the state if the ban goes into effect, the filing says.
► Meet the plaintiffs
Pam Poe, a 15-year-old transgender girl, began receiving puberty blockers when she was 14 after going through counseling for depression and anxiety. A doctor diagnosed her with gender dysphoria while she was at a residential treatment facility, and shortly after, she saw a doctor who specializes in gender dysphoria.
“After careful evaluation, thorough discussion of risks and benefits, and bloodwork, in May 2022, when Pam Poe was 14, her doctor prescribed her puberty blockers,” the filing says. “The medication had a near-immediate positive effect on Pam. By pausing the physical changes that were causing her depression and anxiety, her mental health greatly improved.”
Jane Doe, a 16-year-old transgender girl, came out to friends and family in 2020. Doe went through several months of therapy, doctor visits, and lab work before receiving puberty blockers in January 2021. Three months later, she received a low-dose hormone therapy, which further improved her self image and mental health, according to the filing.
“The ongoing debate over (the law) and other anti-transgender bills has been a heavy cloud over Jane and has negatively impacted her life,” the filing says. “She feels like her home state does not recognize her humanity and is telling her she has to leave.”
During the 2023 legislative session, sponsors of the bill expressed concern that minors were too young to consent to such medical treatments.
“What we are saying is that under the age of 18 – these things that can have long term, life-altering consequences – we’re saying you have to wait until you’re 18,” said bill sponsor Lori Den Hartog, R-Meridian.
Gov. Brad Little signed the legislation into law on April 4, issuing a transmittal letter with its passage.
“In signing this bill, I recognize our society plays a role in protecting minors from surgeries or treatments that can irreversibly damage their healthy bodies,” Little wrote. “However, as policymakers we should take great caution whenever we consider allowing the government to interfere with loving parents and their decisions about what is best for their children.”
“The bill is aptly named the Vulnerable Child Protection Act because it seeks to protect children with gender dysphoria from medical and surgical interventions that can cause permanent damage to their bodies before they are mature enough to make such serious health decisions,” Little concluded.
In an April interview with Idaho Reports, when asked about the transmittal letter, Little predicted the issue would end up in federal court.
“I think this is going to play out on a larger scale,” Little said. “There’s about 20 states that have this right now, and about a year from now, after the federal courts have weighed in, we’re going to know more.”
When asked if he believed minors who are currently receiving that medical treatment should have to stop that treatment, he said yes.