National Partnership for Women & Families

In the News

Op-ed: Minn. lawsuit targeting minors' right to transgender care has 'profound' implications for abortion care

A Minnesota parent recently filed a lawsuit "to block her transgender daughter from receiving further gender-affirming medical services," which, if successful, "could have profound implications for trans youth and minors who need abortion access" in the state, Lisa Needham writes in an opinion piece for Rewire.

Needham explains that the parent is being represented by the Thomas More Society, a legal organization that by taking on the lawsuit "has branched out a bit" from its usual focus on abortion restrictions "to assault the rights of trans youth." She adds, "[B]ut make no mistake: This is also an attack on abortion rights. Harming trans teens is just an added, awful bonus."

According to Needham, the state "provides for medical emancipation, in which a minor can consent to any health services without parental consent or input if they have been managing their own personal financial affairs and are living apart from their parent." She explains that in this instance, "the daughter, referred to as J.D.K. in the complaint, has been living on her own since at least the fall of 2015."

Needham adds that while the parent says she has "always held her home open to J.D.K.," that is legally "beside the point" in Minnesota, which does not require that the minor seeking medical emancipation to be barred from the parental home or go through a court process. Needham writes, "The law is designed to ensure that minors are able to obtain medical care when they need it, rather than after a lengthy court proceeding."

J.D.K. has been undergoing her transition since she obtained medical emancipation in the fall of 2015, Needham continues, noting that the parent in the lawsuit is hoping to "stop that cold" by suing J.D.K., "the county, J.D.K.'s medical providers, and J.D.K.'s school." Specifically, the parent "wants the county to stop paying for J.D.K.'s medical care, J.D.K.'s medical providers to stop providing that medical care, and J.D.K.'s school to turn over school records to her -- records J.D.K.'s mother is currently barred from seeing because, again, J.D.K. is medically emancipated."

The lawsuit does not "just seek to stop J.D.K. herself from receiving vital medical services," Needham writes, explaining that it also aims "to create a legal process by which all Minnesota parents can oppose the medical emancipation of a child and ..., by extension, any medical services that child might need." Needham posits that Thomas More's interest in the lawsuit likely stems from this facet of the challenge, given how the complaint "laments that there is no process to 'challenge, retain or restore parental rights' after there's a medical emancipation determination, either under Minnesota's medical emancipation law or 'under common law regarding all matters for which a minor's emancipation determination is used.'"

According to Needham, the common law part of the complaint is "an obvious swipe at Minnesota's parental notification scheme." She writes that while the state bars "an 'unemancipated minor' from receiving abortion services without consent," there is "no statutory definition for 'emancipated minor' in Minnesota, nor is there a process codified in law to obtain complete emancipation." She explains, "Because the law in Minnesota is vague, it's ripe for the sort of sideways challenge you see here."

Needham writes that if the lawsuit is successful, "a parent would have the right to demand a hearing before or after a minor's emancipation to restore full parental rights, which could mean barring the minor from accessing any medical care absent the parent's consent." She continues, "And let's face it: Abortion and gender-affirming medical services are likely the only medical procedures conservatives are concerned about blocking with this sort of litigation." Further, noting that it is unlikely "a minor can effectively represent themselves in a full-fledged hearing against their own parents," Needham writes that a parent, "merely by demanding a hearing, ... could functionally block care."

Nonetheless, Needham writes that while the "lawsuit is almost certainly a vehicle to attack abortion rights, the plaintiff and the Thomas More Society seem more than happy to harm trans youth in the process," noting that the complaint misgenders J.D.K., uses outdated terms related to gender-affirming care and frames the medical issue as "elective." She concludes, "All in all, though it pretends to paint a picture of a parent who is saddened by this situation and desperate to reconnect and play a role in her child's life, the complaint instead creates a nightmare pastiche of willful violence against trans youth and minors who need abortion services" (Needham, Rewire, 11/22).