Families in Ohio file lawsuit against legislation banning transgender care

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), along with the ACLU of Ohio and the law firm Goodwin, have taken legal action by filing a lawsuit on Tuesday. Their aim is to challenge House Bill 68, a piece of legislation in Ohio that prohibits transgender minors from receiving gender-affirming medical care. Additionally, the bill also prevents transgender girls from participating in sports designated for girls and women.

The complaint specifically focuses on challenging the medical care restrictions imposed by the controversial law known as the SAFE Act, or Save Adolescents from Experimentation. It urges the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas to invalidate this law before its scheduled implementation date of April 24, 2024.

Physicians who offer gender-affirming care to transgender youth could face disciplinary action from their professional licensing board under this legislation. However, there are exceptions for providing similar care to non-transgender youth. Additionally, there is a grandfather clause that permits transgender individuals who are already receiving care to continue doing so without interruption.

Two families have filed a lawsuit advocating for the protection of their children’s access to vital and medically necessary healthcare. They argue that the law in question infringes upon four sections of the Ohio Constitution, including the Equal Protection clause, which ensures fair treatment for all individuals. Additionally, they contend that the law violates the provision stating that bills should only address one subject, and that no law or rule should restrict the purchase or sale of healthcare or health insurance. Lastly, they claim that the law is in violation of the Due Course of Law provision, which guarantees proper legal procedures.

Freda Levenson, the Legal Director at the ACLU of Ohio, emphasized the importance of keeping personal medical decisions private and within the purview of families and doctors, rather than politicians. In a statement regarding the lawsuit, she stated, “We will advocate in court to safeguard the rights of trans youth and their parents, ensuring their access to essential and life-saving healthcare free from government interference.”

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According to a child involved in the legal case, who remains anonymous due to their age, the use of puberty blockers has played a crucial role in reducing their fear and anxiety related to their body changes, which do not align with their gender. This treatment has significantly improved their mental well-being and alleviated their gender dysphoria. However, if HB 68 becomes law, the child’s family is worried about their health as they may not have access to estrogen hormone therapy in the future, should they desire it and with the consent of their parents.

In January, the Republican-controlled Ohio House and Senate voted to override a veto of the bill by Republican Gov. Mike DeWine.

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine had previously raised concerns about the potential legal challenges that the state would encounter if the law was enacted. In fact, a federal judge had already declared a similar law in Arkansas as unconstitutional, and cases involving comparable legislation in Texas and Georgia have been put on hold pending legal proceedings.

DeWine also voiced his concerns regarding the potential repercussions that could arise from the prohibition of transgender medical care, particularly the impact it could have on the small and vulnerable transgender community.

During his veto speech, DeWine expressed the impactful stories shared by numerous parents who credited the Ohio children’s hospital with saving their child’s life. He acknowledged the gratitude expressed by grown adults who believed that without the care they received, they would have been driven to contemplate suicide during their teenage years.

Transgender youth often face discrimination and gender dysphoria, which can contribute to their heightened risk of experiencing anxiety, depressed mood, and even thoughts of suicide, as highlighted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, a recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine has shed light on the positive impact of hormone therapy on the mental well-being of transgender adolescents and teenagers.

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According to DeWine, these decisions are emotionally challenging and should be made by the parents themselves. It is crucial that they have the guidance and advice of medical professionals when making such choices. DeWine acknowledges that these parents have witnessed their children’s suffering, often over an extended period, and have genuine fears about their child’s survival.

Republican Rep. Gary Click, one of the sponsors of HB 68, expressed his criticism towards the lawsuit filed by the ACLU.

Click responded to the ACLU filing on Tuesday, stating that gender-affirming care should be viewed as a slogan rather than science. According to Click, sex changes for children and counseling without parental consent are not in line with the civil rights protected by the constitution. Furthermore, Click expressed confidence in Ohio Attorney General David Yost’s capability to defend the SAFE Act.

Physicians who specialize in gender-affirming care emphasize the importance of collaboration among patients, their doctors, and their families in developing a personalized treatment plan. This means that not all patients will undergo every type of gender-affirming medical procedure. The involvement of parents in these discussions is also considered crucial.

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, in his veto announcement, expressed that during his discussions with families, the topic of surgery or sex changes for individuals under the age of 18 did not arise. The prohibition outlined in HB 68 would have implications on both reversible puberty blockers and hormone therapy treatments, which are relatively less permanent in nature.

DeWine pointed out that the discussion was not focusing on surgical procedures, contrary to popular belief. He emphasized that this misconception is widespread and stated, “It’s a fallacy to assume that this immediately leads to surgery.” He highlighted that children’s hospitals do not perform surgeries as a standard practice.

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Supporters of HB 68 argue that there is a need for further research on gender-affirming care, which unfortunately is not addressed in the bill.

“In the debate on the bill, GOP state Sen. Terry Johnson, a retired physician, emphasized the importance of considering the potential long-term harm of our actions. He urged caution, stating, “If we are unsure whether our actions will cause harm in the future, whether it be in 10, 15, 20 years, or even just one year, it is best to refrain from doing it.” Sen. Johnson further argued that the medical evidence does not currently support the practices we are implementing in our country.”

Critics argue that these restrictions will have a detrimental impact on transgender youth, who are already subjected to a disproportionate amount of discrimination, violence, and bullying.

Gender-affirming care has received praise from over 20 major national medical associations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Medical Association. These reputable organizations have deemed this care to be both safe and effective. The American Medical Association has specifically emphasized that gender-affirming care can be medically necessary to enhance the physical and mental well-being of transgender individuals.

Ohio is among the 23 states that have implemented laws limiting gender-affirming healthcare for transgender youth.

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