By Maria Caspani
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Transgender minors in Alabama for now can use medicine to transition, a federal judge said late on Friday in an order that blocked part of a state ban on gender-affirming treatments.
The ruling, a preliminary injunction issued by U.S. District Judge Liles Burke, was issued less than a week after the law went into effect on May 8.
Burke, who was appointed by former President Donald Trump, a Republican, said higher court rulings made clear that parents have the right to direct the medical care of their children if it meets acceptable standards and that transgender people are protected against discrimination under federal law.
The measure makes it a crime punishable by up to 10 years in prison to provide or administer puberty blockers and hormone therapy to transgender and nonbinary youth under 19. It also outlaws surgical treatments that experts say are extremely rare for minors.
Burke left in place the part of the law that bans sex-altering surgeries and other provisions that prohibit school officials from keeping certain gender-identity information secret from parents.
The lawsuit, brought by civil rights groups on behalf of four Alabama families, two physicians and a minister, argues that the ban would cause "immediate and irreparable" harm to the plaintiffs and that the measure violates several of their constitutional rights.
The U.S. Department of Justice has joined the case, saying that the Alabama law violates the U.S. Constitution's guarantee of equal protection under the law.
"I believe very strongly that if the Good Lord made you a boy, you are a boy, and if he made you a girl, you are a girl," Republican Governor Kay Ivey said after signing the law last month.
A similar but not as far-reaching law in Arkansas was blocked by the courts last year before it could go into effect.
"Never before has a state law mandated a choice between a potential felony conviction versus turning our back on the basic tenets of our Hippocratic oath," Morissa Ladinsky, a physician who co-runs a gender health clinic in Birmingham and a witness for the plaintiffs, said in an interview this week.
Major medical organizations and mental health professionals say transition-related medical care saves lives by reducing the risk of depression and suicide in transgender and nonbinary individuals.
Transgender rights have emerged as a wedge issue in the culture wars ahead of the November congressional elections. Republican lawmakers have introduced hundreds of bills across state legislatures, the majority of them directed at trans youth.
Many Republicans and conservative activists promote the laws as safeguards for children and parental rights. Opponents, including Democrats and LGBTQ organizations, say the legislation is harmful, unnecessary and would have dire consequences on transgender youth.
According to a survey by non-profit The Trevor Project, 93% of transgender and nonbinary youth said they have worried about trans people "being denied access to gender-affirming medical care due to state or local laws."
The ruling to block part of the Alabama law was "an extraordinary relief," said Jennifer Levi, director of the GLAAD Transgender Rights Project. "Parents should not be punished for wanting to do what's best for their kids."
(Reporting by Maria Caspani in New York; Additional reporting by Ted Hesson in Washington; Editing by Grant McCool and Mark Porter)