Holcomb signs transgender medical care ban, ACLU files suit

By: - April 5, 2023 1:18 pm
trans ban

Annie DerOlf, left, and Killian Provence, a 16-year-old transgender boy, chant outside of the Senate Chamber against a bill that would bar gender-affirming medical care. (Whitney Downard/Indiana Capital Chronicle)

The signing of a controversial medical care ban for transgender minors on Wednesday prompted a near-immediate lawsuit after Gov. Eric Holcomb approved the bill over the protests of families, medical professionals and transgender children.

Within hours, the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana (ACLU) filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of four transgender minors, whose health care would abruptly cease if the bill went into effect on July 1.

Attorney General Todd Rokita said his office is prepared to defend the ban in court. 

Holcomb, author comments

Holcomb, in a statement, seemed to agree with the bill’s legislative supporters who said such medical interventions should only occur in adulthood – though several other states have now introduced bans on adult gender-affirming health care after passing similar laws barring the treatment for minors.

“Permanent gender-changing surgeries with lifelong impacts and medically prescribed preparation for such a transition should occur as an adult, not as a minor. There has and will continue to be debate within the medical community about the best ways to provide physical and mental health care for adolescents who are struggling with their own gender identity, and it is important that we recognize and understand those struggles are real. With all of that in mind, I have decided to sign SB 480 into law,” he said in a prepared statement.

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb gives his State of the State Address Tuesday Jan. 10, 2022, in the Indiana House of Representatives chamber. (Photo by Monroe Bush for the Indiana Capital Chronicle)

Just the day before, Holcomb said the bill was “clear as mud,” declining to share how he’d act on the measure but saying he’d consulted with lawmakers, physicians and legal counsel to inform his decision.

On Saturday, hundreds gathered at the Indiana Statehouse to personally appeal to the governor and ask him to veto Senate Bill 480, which bans puberty blockers, hormone therapies and surgical interventions. 

Repeated testimony affirmed that no doctors perform such surgeries on children in Indiana.

Sen. Tyler Johnson, R-Leo — who authored the legislation — praised the governor for signing his bill.

“We have the utmost compassion for children suffering with gender dysphoria and they deserve sensible counseling. Gender related procedures on children are growing at an alarming rate in the United States while other countries are scaling back their use. Since these procedures have irreversible and life-altering effects, it is appropriate and necessary for our state to make sure these procedures are performed only on adults who can make the decision on their own behalf,” Johnson, a physician, said in a statement.

ACLU files suit

The four youth represented by the ACLU span the state, from a 10-year-old girl in Monroe County to a 15-year-old boy in Elkhart County. Other parties include their parents and a doctor, whose Elkhart County family practice would be impacted by the bill.

Under the bill, those youth – and hundreds of other youth – would have six months after the bill goes into effect July 1 to cease using their prescribed treatments for hormone therapies. Doctors would immediately be unable to prescribe puberty blockers to transgender children. 

Both types of treatments are still allowed for cisgender children without a gender dysphoria diagnosis.

In a virtual press conference, families shared the emotional toll the health care ban would have on their children. Three of the four youth had reportedly self harmed in the court filing, including both transgender girls who spoke of cutting off or mutilating their male genitalia before the age of 5.

“It’s been very difficult to see my son unmotivated and losing all that progress,” Maria Rivera, one of the parents, said. “(I) see my child losing all of his hope; it’s devastating for us.”

ACLU of Indiana legal director Ken Falk (From the ACLU of Indiana Website)

Ken Falk, the ACLU legal director, said the Seventh Circuit Court had precedence for ruling that transgender discrimination is sex discrimination, which strengthens the case. The Seventh Circuit includes Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin.

He noted that the bill would bar parents from making medical decisions about their child’s care, violating their parents rights. 

The ACLU, in an earlier release, added that similar laws in Alabama and Arkansas are currently blocked by federal courts. Other affiliates are in the midst of legal challenges against new or proposed gender-affirming health care bans in: Tennessee, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Utah and Montana. A federal judge overseeing a challenge to the Arkansas ban, the first passed in the nation, will rule on the issue soon.

The Indiana bill closely mirrored several introduced bills across the country, which has seen a flurry of anti-trans legislation in recent months. Committee testimony featured several out-of-state groups and prominent anti-trans activists.

AG ‘ready’ to defend law

Attorney General Todd Rokita tweeted that his office was “ready” to defend the state in court and later released a statement.

“Signing the bill that protects our children from irreversible and damaging decisions was the right move by the governor. Banning these experimental procedures is critical for the health and wellbeing of future generations. My office is thankful for the General Assembly’s hard work to ensure this got across the finish line,” Rokita said.

Last year, Holcomb vetoed a measure that would have barred transgender female athletes from competing with their peers, saying the Indiana High School Athletic Association already had a policy for transgender athletes. Within weeks, the General Assembly returned for a technical corrections day and voted to overturn his veto with a simple majority.

Had Holcomb decided to veto this bill, it’s likely that lawmakers would ultimately overturn his veto again.

The ACLU challenged that bill as well, which is currently in court.


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Whitney Downard
Whitney Downard

A native of upstate New York, Whitney previously covered statehouse politics for CNHI’s nine Indiana papers, focusing on long-term healthcare facilities and local government. Prior to her foray into Indiana politics, she worked as a general assignment reporter for The Meridian Star in Meridian, Mississippi. Whitney is a graduate of St. Bonaventure University (#GoBonnies!), a community theater enthusiast and cat mom.