The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against the Wisconsin Department of Corrections Jan. 24, challenging the constitutionality of a state statute that prohibits inmate sex changes.
The lawsuit came in response to the complaints of four Wisconsin prisoners currently undergoing hormonal sex changes, who were temporarily forced to discontinue hormonal therapy after the passage of Assembly Bill 184.
The bill, signed into law early last month, mandates that state funds cannot be used to fund the hormone therapy or sex-reassignment surgery of prisoners or forensic patients.
Although AB 184 lead author Rep. Scott Suder, R-Abbotsford, backs the current law's legitimacy, the ACLU views it as a form of cruel and unusual punishment.
"Prisoners have a constitutional right to reasonable and necessary medical care," said Attorney Larry Dupuis, who is representing the ACLU of Wisconsin. "If the state provides care that is deliberately different to serious medical needs, that violates the Eighth Amendment … and that's unconstitutional."
According to the ACLU, the law also violates the Equal Protection Clause, as it specifically targets an identifiable minority and treats it differently.
A federal district court in Milwaukee agreed the law may prove unconstitutional and ordered a temporary injunction last month to make the law inactive until the lawsuit is concluded.
Suder disagreed, however, pointing to the lack of certifiable proof and reducing the health risks to "medical theories."
"I think it's absurd for anyone, especially a federal judge, to argue that sex-change therapy is somehow medicinal in nature," Suder said. "The so-called disorder the ACLU is referring to is not a medically necessary treatment. It is a choice."
The ACLU, however, said prominent medical groups, including the American Psychiatric Association, recognize afflictions caused by hormone discontinuation as real disorders.
"The Legislature tried to substitute their judgment for the medical judgment of doctors," Dupuis said.
According to Dupuis, forcing sex-change patients to discontinue hormone therapy is medically irresponsible and downright dangerous.
The four prisoners experienced hot flashes, anxiety attacks, skin breakouts and psychological disorders, Dupuis said, adding even further risks of contracting diabetes and heart complications are possible.
Suder, however, refuted claims the law amounts to cruel and unusual punishment, instead calling the hormone therapy an unfair financial punishment for the state's taxpayers.
"To stop forcing taxpayers to pay for sex-change therapy for prisoners certainly is not cruel and unusual punishment," Suder said, adding for judges to rule otherwise is "the height of judicial activism."
Though Suder said he does not have a lot of confidence in Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager to "vigorously fight against the lawsuit," he said he and bill co-sponsors would fight to uphold the law.
"It's unfortunate crazy groups like the ACLU think it's a good idea to give sex-change operations to [prisoners], but we're going to fight in any way we can and the fight certainly isn't over," Suder said, adding he is not ruling out a constitutional amendment.
The final hearing is scheduled for Aug. 24.