Federal Judge Tosses Florida Ban on Gender-Affirming Care

June 11, 2024 by Dan McCue
Federal Judge Tosses Florida Ban on Gender-Affirming Care
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis gives his State of the State address during a joint session of the Senate and House of Representatives in Tallahassee, Fla., Jan. 9, 2024. (AP Photo/Gary McCullough)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A Florida law banning gender-affirming health care for transgender minors and restricting access to care for some transgender adults is unconstitutional, a federal judge ruled Tuesday.

The law, which was signed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in May of last year, barred doctors and nurses from prescribing or administering transition-related medication to those under 18 and exposed medical providers to criminal liability and professional discipline if they did so, among other provisions.

Its passage was immediately followed by a series of complimentary rules adopted by the state’s medical boards.

But U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle, who blocked enforcement of the law last June, was having none of it, as he explained in a lengthy, 105-page ruling.

The law, he wrote, stemmed from the “anti-transgender animus” of state lawmakers and by a “deeply flawed” analysis drafted by the state Agency for Health Care Administration.”

As a result, he said, “Florida … adopted a statute and rules that ban gender-affirming care for minors even when medically appropriate.”

With his ruling, Hinkle sided with advocacy groups and three families who said the law stripped them of their parental rights to make medical decisions for their children.

Where Florida lawmakers and the state’s top health officials deemed transgender health care “experimental,” Hinkle declared “gender identity is real” and that hormone treatments and puberty blockers are “widely accepted standards of care.”

Hinkle pointed to comments from DeSantis and House representatives about young children being castrated or sterilized because of medical treatments for gender dysphoria. Hinkle said that the state admitted during the trial that there was no factual basis for those remarks, and that the record showed no evidence any Florida child had been “castrated or mutilated.”

“Perhaps all this talk about castration and mutilation is just political hyperbole,” the judge wrote. “But it casts at least some doubt on the assertion that these decision-makers’ motivation was sound regulation of medical care in the best interest of transgender patients rather than outright disapproval of transgender identity.

“Transgender opponents are of course free to hold their beliefs. But they are not free to discriminate against transgender individuals just for being transgender,” Hinkle continued. “In time, discrimination against transgender individuals will diminish, just as racism and misogyny have diminished. To paraphrase a civil rights advocate from an earlier time, the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” 

“In the meantime, the federal courts have a role to play in upholding the Constitution and laws,” he said. “The state of Florida can regulate as needed but cannot flatly deny transgender individuals safe and effective medical treatment — treatment with medications routinely provided to others with the state’s full approval so long as the purpose is not to support the patient’s transgender identity.” 

Hinkle’s ruling also invalidated a part of the law that said transition care for adults “may not be prescribed, administered or performed except by a physician.” That part of the ruling opens the door for nurse practitioners, physician assistants and other medical professionals to provide such care.

DeSantis’ office said late Tuesday that it plans to appeal the ruling.

Dan can be reached at [email protected] and @DanMcCue

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