JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Missouri is just days away from a new law going into effect banning transgender minors from gender-affirming care, but a judge could halt the measure from going into place.

It was the headline of the legislative session, restricting gender-affirming care for minors, and now it’s set to go into effect Monday, but Attorney General Andrew Bailey and families of transgender children spent the week in court fighting over the new law. It’s now up to the judge to decide how the court challenge plays out.

“We’re going to defend it against the attack, and we anticipate winning on the merits of that case,” Bailey said in an exclusive interview with our Missouri Chief Capitol Bureau Reporter Emily Manley. “Our role is to defend the statute enacted by the General Assembly. Activists on the other side of the political spectrum attack these laws and don’t like that state legislatures are passing these laws.”

It was a priority for Republicans and the governor to prohibit doctors from performing surgeries and prescribing puberty or hormone treatments to minors. Gov. Mike Parson told lawmakers that if they couldn’t get the legislation to his desk during the regular session, they should be prepared to come back for a special session.

Senate Bill 49 would also affect Medicaid patients due to the state prohibiting any funds from covering gender-affirming care in Missouri, and surgery will no longer be available to inmates and prisoners.

Last month, several law firms representing three families of transgender minors filed a lawsuit against the state, asking a judge to stop the new law from going into effect. The judge in the case did not allow for cameras or photos to be taken inside the Greene County courtroom.

Under the legislation, the ban on puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones will expire in four years, but the ban on gender-affirming surgeries is permanent. Doctors who treat patients in violation of the law would be subject to professional discipline and civil liability. The law also allows former patients to sue, giving them 15 years to go to court and promising at least $500,000 in damages if they win.

This comes as judges in other states like Arkansas, Georgia, and Kentucky have blocked similar laws from taking effect.

“We have coordinated with other states, learned from their lessons in their litigation, and incorporated that into our litigation strategy,” Bailey said. “We’re going to go to court and defend the state’s laws, and at the end of the day, this is about protecting children with mental health problems and sterilization.”

Both St. Louis and Kansas City have declared themselves LGBTQ sanctuary cities. Bailey said he’s prepared to take action.

“Shame on city leaders who attempt to do that,” Bailey said. “At the end of the day, this is a rule of law issue. The General Assembly has passed a statute that preempts local control, so we’re going to enforce the laws as written.”

In a statement following this week’s court hearings, the American Civil Liberties Union, which is part of the lawsuit, said in a statement:

SB 49 threatens the health and wellbeing of all trans youth in Missouri, as well as all transgender MOHealthNet beneficiaries, young and adult alike. It threatens parental rights and interferes with the careful planning and decision-making undertaking by trans youth, their parents, and their providers.

Over the past week, we were able to share the stories of the families of trans youth, medical providers, and membership organizations we represent, as well as show how access to gender-affirming medical care is necessary and essential to the health and wellbeing of countless transgender Missourians.

SB 49 is not about improving patient care in Missouri; it is about preventing people from being transgender. The law is rooted in discrimination as it would deny evidence-based, necessary, and often lifesaving medical care to transgender people while allowing a non-transgender person to obtain the same treatment.

The state’s experts were not up to snuff as they conceded that there is no evidence supporting their approach and the level of evidence they would require for gender-affirming medical care is not required for most medical interventions. No other country in the world has enforced the restrictions as laid out in SB 49, which would put Missouri out-of-step with the rest of the world.

We are appreciative of the court’s time and the opportunity to present our case. We look forward to the court’s decision.

The judge is expected to rule by Monday.

Senate Bill 39 also goes into effect Monday, requiring transgender athletes to compete on sports teams with their sex assigned at birth. The Missouri State High School Activities Association (MSHSAA) said there are eight trans student athletes who have been approved through their policy, four competing at the junior high level and four at the senior high level.

A spokesperson for MSHSAA said Thursday that the association does not play any part in the enforcement of the law. Instead, this new law vacates MSHSAA’s policy that was in place, therefore, schools with students who were previously deemed eligible based on the student’s gender identity have been notified that their eligibility has been rescinded.