ACLU: Lawsuit likely if Nebraska bill on trans health passes

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LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Now that a Nebraska bill to ban gender-affirming treatments for minors has cleared its first and toughest hurdle, parents and children likely to be affected by the measure are preparing for a legal fight, the American Civil Liberties Union said Friday.

“It's discriminatory on the basis of sex,” said Jane Seu, policy counsel with the Nebraska ACLU. “It also violates the free speech rights of doctors.”

The bill — which has led opposing lawmakers to stage an effort to filibuster every bill before the Legislature this session — would outlaw gender-affirming therapies such as hormone treatments, puberty blockers and gender reassignment surgery for those 18 and younger. It would also ban Nebraska doctors from referring minors to other providers — even those in another state — for such treatment.

Republican lawmakers on Thursday advanced the bill from the first of three rounds of debate on a largely party-line vote. But even if enacted this year, opponents say the fight to stop it and other measures targeting the transgender community will shift to federal court, where a nearly identical measure on trans health in Arkansas has already been temporarily shut down. A federal judge has also blocked enforcement of the law in Alabama.

The American Civil Liberties Union is representing the families of transgender youth suing Arkansas over its ban, which was temporarily blocked in 2021 by a federal judge who’s considering whether to strike the prohibition down. U.S. District Judge Jay Moody said in his ruling that those suing were likely to succeed on their arguments that the bill is unconstitutional.

The temporary injunction was upheld last year by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which also oversees federal cases in Nebraska.

That could spell legal trouble for the Nebraska bill if it's enacted, as the Nebraska bill is nearly identical to the Arkansas measure, Seu said. The ACLU is focused on defeating the bill before it can become law, but Seu acknowledged that it's preparing for a legal fight on behalf of transgender kids.

“We are talking to families,” she said. “They've been contacting us, because they're scared.”

Some of those families testified about that fear during a hearing for the bill last month. That includes Rachel Ogborn, who sobbed as she detailed repeated emergency room trips with her despondent child about the time puberty began.

“I'm here today so I don't lose my child,” Ogborn said. “I know that sounds extreme, but so is this bill.”

The care she sought led to therapy and treatment for her child that included testosterone blockers and estrogen.

“I went from having a suicidal, depressed, self-harming son who didn't see himself in the future at all, to having a happy, healthy daughter who smiles and talks at the dinner table,” she said.

At least seven other states besides Arkansas and Alabama have enacted laws restricting or banning gender-affirming care for minors: Arizona, Georgia, Iowa, Mississippi, Tennessee, Utah and South Dakota. A proposed ban is pending before West Virginia’s governor. Nearly two dozen states are considering bills this year to restrict or ban care.