By SCOTT BAUER
MADISON, Wis. – A federal appeals court has upheld a ruling striking down a Wisconsin law banning publicly-funded hormone therapy for transgender inmates, saying denying the treatment amounted to torture.
The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision came in a case brought by a group of male inmates who identify as female. They argued they needed the hormones to treat their gender identity disorder and not having them would lead to severe health problems.
The state appealed after a federal judge struck down the 2005 law last year.
On Friday, a three-judge panel of the appeals court upheld the ruling, saying the law violates a constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment because it denies medical treatment.
“Surely, had the Wisconsin Legislature passed a law that DOC inmates with cancer must be treated only with therapy and pain killers, this court would have no trouble concluding that the law was unconstitutional,” the appeals court judges wrote. “Refusing to provide effective treatment for a serious medical condition serves no valid penological purpose and amounts to torture.”
Attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal, a national gay rights group, praised the ruling.
“Too often the medical needs of transgender persons are not treated as the serious health issues that they are,” said ACLU attorney John Knight in a prepared statement. “We are glad that the appeals court has found that medical professionals, not the Wisconsin Legislature, should make medical decisions for inmates.”
A spokesman for Republican Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen said the office was reviewing its legal options. The state could ask the full 7th Circuit court to hear the case or it could appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
“We don’t believe the Constitution requires prison officials to provide hormone therapy and sexual reassignment surgery to prisoners,” DOJ spokesman Steve Means said in a written statement.
Department of Corrections spokeswoman Linda Eggert said the ruling would have to be reviewed before anyone would comment.
While similar prison policies in other states have been challenged successfully, the ACLU and Lambda Legal said the law was the only one of its kind in the nation that denied such medical care to transgender inmates.
Supporters of the law, which passed in 2005 with bipartisan support and was signed by then-Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle, warned that paying for the therapy would open the door for taxpayer-funded sex changes for inmates, which the law also blocked.
Doyle signed the law after an inmate who had received hormone therapy filed a lawsuit to try to force the prison to pay for his sex change.
U.S. District Judge Charles Clevert issued a temporary order weeks after the law went into effect, blocking prison officials from ending the therapy for inmates already receiving hormones while the lawsuit was pending.
Some of the plaintiffs had been on hormones for years before the law was passed. They included Andrea Fields, who had been taking hormones since 1996. Before the law was blocked, the inmate’s hormone dosage was cut in half, which led to nausea, weakness, loss of appetite and hair growth, according to court records.