It’s only been a few days since Utah Gov. Spencer Cox signed a bill to ban transgender surgeries for Utah children and teens, as well as prohibit new hormonal treatments for minors — and the new law is already headed toward a legal challenge.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Utah and the National Center for Lesbian Rights said on Monday they will be filing a lawsuit against SB16.
“We’re putting together a challenge as quickly as we can,” Shannon Minter, the NCLR’s legal director, told KSL NewsRadio.
“If a child cannot get treatment they will be harmed, they will become sicker, they’ll become worse, they will suffer very serious consequences ... even life threatening consequences.”
Utah’s GOP-majority Legislature has rallied behind SB16 to regulate transgender medical care for Utahns under 18, arguing Utah must step in and “protect” children because there is not enough research on the long-term impact of these procedures and medications on children.
As the law took effect following Cox’s signature, Utah made national headlines as the first state in 2023 to ban medical interventions for transgender minors as part of a “wave of anti-LGBTQ legislation brewing in state houses” across the country, according to USA Today.
“So far this year, at least 10 other states have introduced bills targeting such health care access for transgender and gender-nonconforming people: Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia,” USA Today reported.
Last year, at least 15 states restricted access to such care or considered laws that would do so, according to the Williams Institute.
The ACLU of Utah said “we are planning to challenge the law in the courts, which should surprise no one,” according to a prepared statement.
“Trans kids are kids — they deserve to grow up without constant political attacks on their lives and health care; we will defend that right,” the ACLU’s statement read. “With each incursion into the rights of transgender Utahns, we will use every avenue necessary, including litigation, to defend the civil rights and liberties of transgender and non-binary people from the legislators using their power to infringe on these freedoms. We see you. We Support You.”
The ACLU of Arkansas and Alabama have already challenged similar laws, the ACLU of Utah noted.
“Here locally, we have our ongoing case involving prohibiting transgender girls from sports; this year, it is banning gender-affirming care for minors. We will be defending people’s rights at each incursion.”
LGBTQ advocacy organizations including the Trevor Project say children and teens who identify as transgender are much more likely to struggle with suicidal ideation. They are also more often diagnosed with depression and anxiety, according to studies published in the Journal of Adolescent Health.
Surgeries and medications including puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones are among the medical treatments that transgender and nonbinary people sometimes use to transition or alter their sexual characteristics. Some medical professionals, as well as the American Academy of Pediatrics, say the best way to treat children and teens with gender dysphoria is to provide them with medical interventions often referred to as gender-affirming care.
Cox signed SB16 on Saturday, just one day after the bill won final legislative approval from the Utah Senate. That vote came less than 24 hours after the House approved its version of the bill, which implemented what LGBTQ advocates called a “de facto ban” on not just surgeries but also hormonal treatments.
The House’s changes to SB16 implemented an immediate effective date, as well as stripped out a four-year end date on a moratorium on new patients for hormonal treatments including puberty blockers or cross-sex hormones.
The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Mike Kennedy, R-Alpine, who is a practicing family physician, said he fully expected the bill to be challenged in court.
“I would bet every dollar that I have in my bank account right now that this will be litigated,” Kennedy said on the Senate floor.
“There’s going to be further action on this,” Kennedy promised, though he added he was “really impressed” that “vain promises were not offered to me to avoid lawsuits” in his conversations with Equality Utah.
Kennedy said it’s “not a perfect piece of legislation,” but he argued in favor of the Senate agreeing with the House’s changes to the bill to get it across the legislative finish line.
In a prepared statement issued Monday, Kennedy said the bill resulted from “several months of thoughtful conversations with stakeholders to do what is best to protect our children.”
“We can’t allow social policy to outpace science, especially when scientific evidence is still emerging and lacking in consensus,” Kennedy said. “I hope we can continue working together to provide our struggling children with the support they need to grow and thrive.”
Cox also said the bill was not perfect, but signed it into law. He, along with Utah’s Republican-controlled Legislature, argued it was needed to protect the state’s youth from treatments that lack long-term research.
“Legislation that impacts our most vulnerable youth requires careful consideration and deliberation,” Cox said in a statement issued Saturday. “While not a perfect bill, we are grateful for Sen. Kennedy’s more nuanced and thoughtful approach to this terribly divisive issue. More and more experts, states and countries around the world are pausing these permanent and life-altering treatments for new patients until more and better research can help determine the long-term consequences.”
The ACLU of Utah on Friday issued a letter to Cox urging him to veto the bill.
“Last year you spoke about how important it is to act on the side of ‘kindness, mercy, and compassion.’ We echo the concerns and commitments you raised to give transgender youth in Utah a chance to live,” the ACLU of Utah said in its letter. “This bill will undermine those commitments.”
The letter went on to tell the governor the bill would effectively ban “life-saving medical care” and “ties the hands of doctors and parents by restricting access to the only evidence-based treatment available for this serious medical condition and impedes their ability to fulfill their professional obligations.”
The letter also said the bill is “riddled with numerous constitutional issues. It violates the equal protection rights of transgender adolescents and the due process rights of their parents. This bill clearly discriminates on the basis of sex and transgender status. The bill also infringes upon the substantive due process rights of parents to direct the care, custody, and control of their minor children, which includes the right to follow medical guidelines for treatment.”
Contributing: Lindsay Aerts