Federal judge blocks Florida ban on gender transition care, suggests law is unconstitutional

High-profile legislation restricting gender transition care recently enacted in Florida was halted this week by a federal judge concerned about immediate harm to patients and seemingly unconvinced that such laws are constitutional.

Tuesday, Judge Robert L. Hinkle of Federal District Court in Tallahassee, Florida, granted a preliminary injunction in favor of three families with transgender minors who challenged a law signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis on May 17.

“Florida has adopted a statute and rules that prohibit these treatments even when medically appropriate,” the judge wrote. “The plaintiffs are likely to prevail on their claim that the prohibition is unconstitutional. And they have met the other prerequisites to a preliminary injunction.”

Specifically, the judge prohibited the state’s governor-appointed Board of Medicine, Board of Osteopathic Medicine and attorneys from preventing the plaintiffs from receiving hormone-blocking treatments or cross-sex hormones “in accordance with professional standards that would apply to use of the same substances to treat patients with other medical conditions.”

The defendants were also prohibited from taking enforcement actions against the patients, their parents or their healthcare providers as outlined by the state boards and codified into law.

“The court recognized the profound harm the state of Florida is causing by forcing parents to watch their kids suffer rather than provide them with safe and effective care that will allow them to thrive,” legal representation for the plaintiff families said in a released statement. “We are incredibly relieved that these Florida parents can continue to get healthcare for their children while we proceed to challenge these bans and eventually see them fully overturned.”

The plaintiffs’ representation also celebrated the language of Hinkle’s order, which explicitly asserted that “gender identity is real” and not a contrary decision made by transgender individuals “just as one might choose whether to read Shakespeare or Grisham.”

Hinkle went on to write in the order that the treatments in question fall within generally accepted standards of care and are supported by clinical evidence presented to the court.

The plaintiff families “are likely to succeed on their claim that they have obtained appropriate medical care for their children to this point,” the judge wrote, and their ability to evaluate the benefits and risks for their children “far exceeds the ability of the State of Florida to do so.”

He also noted that the plaintiff’s argument that the ban violates the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause was already accepted last year by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court regarding a similar ban in Arkansas and, though it is not binding, “is on point, well reasoned and should be followed,” he wrote.

The plaintiffs’ legal challenge to Florida’s law and boards of medicine is moving forward and “likely to proceed quickly to trial,” representation for the plaintiffs said.

Florida’s law was among the most prominent and punitive among a wave of transgender care-restricting bills passed by numerous Republican-led states in the past year or so. Just last week, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed a bill restricting puberty blockers and hormone therapies for minors that is set to take effect Sept. 1.

Most of these measures focus on gender care provided to minors, though some, like Florida’s, have extended certain restrictions to adults as well. Proponents of the restrictions say that the legislative and administrative bans are intended to limit harm from unproven care decisions, though gender-affirming care is generally supported by medical professional organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Medical Association.

The Florida block is the latest judicial branch pushback throwing the legal resiliency of gender transition care bans into doubt. Last month, St. Louis County Circuit Judge Ellen Ribaudo issued a temporary restraining order on a Missouri emergency rule banning the treatments, which was later pulled by state officials as other bills make their way through the legislature.

Federal health agencies and the Biden administration are also staunch opponents of the restrictions. In late April, the Justice Department threw its hat into a challenge against Tennessee Senate Bill 1, which on July 1 would make certain care for transgender minors unlawful. Similar to the Arkansas case, that complaint alleges that Tennessee’s ban would violate the Equal Protection Clause.