Montana’s Ban on Transition Care for Minors Is Blocked

Montana was a high-profile battleground for a fight that took place in many state legislatures this year over medical procedures for transgender minors. In April, it became one of 22 states to ban or sharply restrict procedures that include puberty blockers, hormone therapy and surgeries.

In a 47-page ruling, Judge Jason Marks wrote that the “plaintiffs demonstrated that they are likely to suffer irreparable harm” if the law goes into effect.

Judge Marks, who previously served as a prosecutor and a public defender, was appointed to his current role in 2019 by Steve Bullock, the former Democratic governor.

Montana became a flashpoint in the debate over transgender rights after Representative Zooey Zephyr, the first openly transgender woman elected to the State Legislature, was barred from the House floor over a speech in which she warned colleagues that they would have “blood on your hands” if they passed the measure.

Gov. Greg Gianforte, a Republican, supported the ban, saying it “protects Montana children from permanent, life-altering medical procedures until they are adults, mature enough to make such serious health decisions.”

In July, three Montana families with transgender children and two medical professionals filed a lawsuit in Missoula District Court asserting that the law infringed on several protections guaranteed by the State Constitution: the right to equal protection under the law, the right of parents to make decisions about the medical care of their children and the right to privacy.

The attorney general’s office has maintained that lawmakers are within their right to ban a field of medicine they regard as experimental and dangerous. A more sensible approach, lawyers for the state contend, is known as “watchful waiting,” which entails psychotherapy but not medical interventions that some people have later said they regretted.

The ruling over an injunction was the first part of a legal fight that may take years to resolve. The case is among at least 14 legal challenges to bans on transgender care for minors that are playing out in state and federal courts across the nation.

Lawyers challenging these bans say courtrooms are better venues than legislatures to debate the efficacy and safety of these medical procedures.

“What we are practicing here is not voodoo,” said Katherine Mistretta, a family nurse practitioner who is one of the plaintiffs in the Montana lawsuit. “I think our justice system will see that there’s enough science to support this, that they will understand that this is appropriate care.”

Montana’s attorney general, Austin Knudsen, a Republican, has vowed to defend the ban. The new law provides common-sense protections for Montana children, who can’t even enter into contracts or buy cigarettes or alcohol,” a spokeswoman, Emily Flower, said in a statement.

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