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Will a judge block Missouri’s ban on trans care for minors? Hearings take place this week

A St. Louis judge this week will weigh whether to block Missouri’s new restrictions on gender-affirming care for transgender youth before they take effect next Monday.

A multiple-day evidentiary hearing, which started in St. Louis on Friday, will be held at the Greene County Courthouse in Springfield Tuesday through Thursday. St. Louis Circuit Court Judge Steven Ohmer will oversee the proceedings and is expected to decide whether to halt the new law from taking effect.

The law, SB 49, bans gender transition surgeries on minors and imposes a moratorium on hormone therapy and puberty blockers until 2027 unless the patients are already receiving the medications.

The legislation is part of a nationwide push to regulate the lives of transgender people and has stoked fear in the state’s transgender community. The legal proceedings could set a major precedent for the LGBTQ community.

The ACLU of Missouri, the national LGBTQ civil rights law firm Lambda Legal and the Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner law firm filed suit against the law last month on behalf of three families of trans kids, medical providers and national LGBTQ advocacy organizations.

What will the law do if it takes effect?

The law, which takes effect Aug. 28, would ban gender-affirming care, which includes hormone therapy and puberty blockers, for people under 18. However, it would allow minors to continue hormone therapy or puberty blockers if they were already prescribed them before the law takes effect.

The restrictions on hormone therapy and puberty blockers expire in 2027. The ban on gender-affirming surgeries does not expire.

Doctors who violate the ban could lose their medical licenses and health care providers could face civil lawsuits for prescribing hormones and puberty blockers to minors. The new law also affects adults, prohibiting Missouri Medicaid dollars from covering gender-affirming care and bans prisons and jails from providing gender-affirming surgeries.

What are the arguments to block it?

The lawsuit asks Ohmer to issue a preliminary injunction against SB 49, arguing it violates the Missouri Constitution by discriminating against transgender patients on the basis of sex and their transgender status, and deprives parents of a fundamental right to seek medical care for their children.

The new law also forces medical providers to choose between abandoning their patients or keeping their medical licenses, according to the suit.

Among the plaintiffs is the family of C.J., a 13-year-old trans boy who has expressed a male gender identity since kindergarten. C.J. is on puberty blockers and his family intends to initiate hormone therapy when he is 14. But the law, if it goes into effect, will prevent him from receiving hormones until he turns 18.

“This law will harm transgender Missourians, their families, and their medical providers while adding inequities to a healthcare system already ripe with discriminatory laws and practices,” the ACLU of Missouri said in a statement prior to the start of the hearing.

What are the arguments for why the law should take effect?

Lawyers for Missouri Gov. Mike Parson, a Republican who signed the law during Pride Month in June, and Republican Attorney General Andrew Bailey will be tasked with defending the law.

Bailey, in a statement posted on social media Friday, painted SB 49 as a way to protect children, offering a window into his expected defense of the law. In a brief filed last week, Bailey framed gender-affirming care on youth as experimental.

“I’m proud to be standing in the gap as we work to protect vulnerable children from these inhumane science experiments,” Bailey posted.

The Republican attorneys general of Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah and West Virginia filed a brief last week defending the law.

Can I watch the hearing?

Media access to the hearing will be limited. Ohmer, the judge, has barred reporters from bringing cameras into the courtroom and is not allowing the public to attend the hearing virtually.

Once the hearing wraps up on Thursday, Ohmer is expected to issue a ruling on the proposed preliminary injunction before the law takes effect on Aug. 28, possibly on Friday.

What’s happened in other states?

Missouri is one of 21 states that have passed a ban on gender-affirming care for youth, according to the Movement Advancement Project, a Colorado-based think tank that advocates for LGBTQ rights.

Over the past few months, judges have blocked similar laws in other states, including in Georgia. This week, a federal judge placed a preliminary injunction on Georgia’s law that prohibited doctors from providing hormone therapy to minors. But, she did not block a ban on gender-affirming surgeries.

However, last month a federal appeals court upheld Tennessee’s ban on gender-affirming care, allowing the state to block access to puberty blockers and gender-affirming surgeries.