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Lawsuit likely if ban on gender-affirming surgery for people in state prisons becomes law

A sign outside the Miami Correctional Facility near Bunker Hill, Indiana. The sign reads "Miami Correctional Facility. Indiana Department of Correction" and lists the governor, department commissioner and warden. The prison is in the background.
FILE PHOTO: Justin Hicks
/
IPB News
It's an open question whether a ban on people in state prisons receiving gender-affirming surgery would violate the U.S. Constitution.

It’s likely Indiana will be sued if a bill banning gender-affirming surgery for people in prison becomes law.

The Eighth Amendment bans cruel and unusual punishment. And for the last several decades, denying care for a serious medical need is included in that.

The vast majority of major medical organizations support all types of gender-affirming care, including surgeries. But Indiana Deputy Attorney General Adrienne Pope said the AG believes denyingsuch surgeries is legal – even if the U.S. Supreme Court has never weighed in.

“In the Seventh Circuit – our circuit – the question whether refusing to provide a prisoner with sex reassignment surgery violates the Eighth Amendment remains an open one,” Pope said.

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Zach Stock, Indiana Public Defenders Council legal counsel, said the bill, HB 1569, ties the hands of the Department of Correction.

“Don’t require them to impose more punishment on our clients than the Constitution allows,” Stock said.

The Senate Corrections and Criminal Law Committee sent the bill to the full chamber Tuesday, along party lines.

There was a proposed amendment to the bill in committee that would require DOC to assign people to prison facilities based on their assigned sex at birth – essentially, forcing trans men into the women's prison and trans women into men's facilities.

That language was a separate bill, SB 487, which did not receive a hearing this session. Senate Corrections and Criminal Law Committee chair Sen. Aaron Freeman (R-Indianapolis) did not consider the amendment Tuesday and said the Republican caucus would decide whether it would be considered on the Senate floor.

Brandon is our Statehouse bureau chief. Contact him at bsmith@ipbs.org or follow him on Twitter at @brandonjsmith5.

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Brandon Smith has covered the Statehouse for Indiana Public Broadcasting for more than a decade, spanning three governors and a dozen legislative sessions. He's also the host of Indiana Week in Review, a weekly political and policy discussion program seen and heard across the state. He previously worked at KBIA in Columbia, Missouri and WSPY in Plano, Illinois. His first job in radio was in another state capitol - Jefferson City, Missouri - as a reporter for three stations around the Show-Me State.