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ACLU sues over Indiana law denying gender affirming care to inmates

The American Civil Liberties Union says Indiana's new law prohibiting gendering affirming care for inmates violates the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. File Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI

Aug. 28 (UPI) -- The American Civil Liberties Union on Monday launched a suit targeting a newly enacted Indiana law prohibiting gender affirming surgery to transgender prison inmates.

In the suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, the civil rights group claims a decision made by the state's Department of Corrections under the provisions of the new law violates the constitutional rights of an inmate who is seeking relief from gender dysphoria.

The ACLU claims the law, known as HEA 1569, violates the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment, asserting that courts "have consistently found" that people who experience gender dysphoria cannot simply be denied care.


The law states the DOC may not use its own resources to facilitate gender-affirming surgeries.

"The DOC cannot deny necessary treatment to incarcerated people simply on the basis that they are transgender. To do so is a form of discrimination," Ken Falk, ACLU of Indiana legal director, said in a statement.

"Gender-affirming care is life-saving care. If the Legislature can deny a form of healthcare arbitrarily, they could just as easily deny other lifesaving treatments to people who are incarcerated," he said.

The suit states that Autumn Cordellioné, also known as Jonathan Richardson, an adult transgender female prisoner now confined in a male institution, was diagnosed in 2020 with gender dysphoria and was prescribed a female hormone and testosterone blocker.

While the hormones "have helped to ameliorate the debilitating symptoms of her gender dysphoria, they have not relieved these symptoms entirely insofar as she continues to experience serious depression and anxiety," and thus gender-affirming surgery is now necessary to ameliorate the dysphoria, the ACLU noted.

The new statute was enacted on July 1 while Cordellioné was on a waiting list to be evaluated for treatment

She has identified as a female since age 6 and has "engaged in self-harm and has attempted suicide because she could not stand the fact that her sex at birth fails to match the fact that she is a woman and cannot tolerate her male body," the suit says.

The legal action is the fifth filed by the ACLU so far this year targeting recent legislation on sexual orientation passed by Indiana's Republican-dominated Legislature, the Indianapolis Star reported.

The rights group earlier sued to block HB 1608, which outlaws conversations around "human sexuality" in schools and instructs teachers to notify parents if a student requests a name or pronoun inconsistent with their sex.

A federal judge last month turned aside the ACLU's request for an injunction against that measure, which critics have dubbed Indiana's version of Florida's "Don't Say Gay" law. That decision is now under appeal.