In a significant legal development, a Montana judge has intervened to block the enforcement of the state’s contentious ban on gender-affirming medical care for minors. The ruling, handed down by Missoula County District Judge Jason Marks, has become the latest in a series of nationwide decisions surrounding state restrictions on treatments for transgender youth.
Judge Marks’s ruling hinged on the belief that the law, known as Senate Bill 99, likely discriminated against minors based on their transgender status while infringing on their privacy rights, thereby violating Montana’s constitution. The law sought to prohibit critical treatments such as puberty blockers, hormone therapy, and surgery for transgender individuals under the age of 18.
A Lifeline for Transgender Minors
Issuing a preliminary injunction, Judge Marks halted the enforcement of Senate Bill 99 while a lawsuit filed by three families with transgender children and two medical providers challenging the law proceeds. He articulated that “barring access to gender-affirming care would negatively impact gender dysphoric minors’ mental and physical health.” The decision has been lauded by advocates for LGBTQ+ rights.
“We are gratified the judge understood the danger of denying transgender Montana youth access to gender-affirming care as the challenge to this cruel and discriminatory law proceeds,” commented Kell Olson, a lawyer representing the plaintiffs with Lambda Legal.
Political Battle and National Implications
Meanwhile, Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen, a Republican, has vowed to defend the law in court, promising an appeal. He cited the “irreversible and immediate harms that the procedures have on children” as his rationale for upholding the ban.
The debate over Senate Bill 99 gained national attention when, in April, the Republican majority in Montana’s statehouse sanctioned Democratic transgender legislator Zooey Zephyr for her comment that passing the law would result in lawmakers having “blood on your hands.” Zephyr was subsequently removed from the legislative floor during the final days of the session.
Montana now stands among 20 states that have enacted restrictions on transgender youth care, defying the medical consensus that recognizes gender-affirming care as the optimal approach to address gender dysphoria. The clash between state policies and healthcare access for transgender youth continues to reverberate across the nation, with federal lawsuits yielding mixed results. A federal appeals court recently reinstated a similar ban in Alabama, while another appeals court is poised to rule on injunctions against bans in Kentucky and Tennessee. Some states’ bans have been struck down, further underscoring the complexity and significance of this ongoing legal battle.