9th Circuit: Idaho must give transgender inmate reassignment surgery. State will appeal

Adree Edmo’s case was heard by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Thursday, May 16 in San Francisco.
Adree Edmo’s case was heard by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Thursday, May 16 in San Francisco. Black and Pink via Facebook

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday ruled that the state of Idaho must provide gender confirmation surgery for transgender prison inmates.

The ruling stems from a lawsuit filed by Adree Edmo, 31, an inmate who was born male but identifies as a woman.

Edmo is incarcerated at the Idaho State Correctional Center, a 2,166-bed men’s prison south of Boise. Edmo is serving a sentence of three to 10 years for sexual abuse of a child under 16 in Bannock County.

In 2017, Edmo sued the Idaho Department of Correction and its medical provider, Corizon, contending that the state’s refusal to provide her with gender confirmation surgery amounts to cruel and unusual punishment and causes severe distress because she has gender dysphoria. The condition occurs when the incongruity between a person’s assigned gender and their gender identity is so drastic that it impairs their ability to function.

U.S. District Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill ruled in Edmo’s favor and ordered the state to provide the surgery. The state appealed to the 9th Circuit.

In its Friday ruling, the 9th Circuit concurred with Winmill that denying Edmo the surgery amounted to cruel and unusual punishment, a violation of the U.S. Constitution.

“We apply the dictates of the Eighth Amendment today in an area of increased social awareness: transgender health care,” concluded the appeals panel in its 85-page opinion. “We are not the first to speak on the subject, nor will we be the last. Our court and others have been considering Eighth Amendment claims brought by transgender prisoners for decades. During that time, the medical community’s understanding of what treatments are safe and medically necessary to treat gender dysphoria has changed as more information becomes available, research is undertaken, and experience is gained.”

Idaho Gov. Brad Little said Friday that the state will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“The court’s decision is extremely disappointing,” Little said in a written statement. “The hardworking taxpayers of Idaho should not be forced to pay for a convicted sex offender’s gender reassignment surgery when it is contrary to the medical opinions of the treating physician and multiple mental health professionals. ... We cannot divert critical public dollars away from the higher priorities of keeping the public safe and rehabilitating offenders.”

Idaho Department of Correction spokesman Jeff Ray said the department is still reviewing the ruling and has no comment at this time.

If the procedure is performed, it would be the first time in the nation an inmate has undergone gender reassignment surgery while in custody.

Shortly after taking office in January as Idaho’s new governor, Little issued a statement about his decision to appeal Winmill’s order to the 9th Circuit. New Idaho Department of Correction Director Josh Tewalt said at the time: “We take seriously our responsibility to provide adequate care to those in our custody. ... But prison is not where you go to get unwarranted surgery. We’re confident subsequent rulings will agree.”

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Idaho Statesman investigative reporter Cynthia Sewell was named Idaho Press Club reporter of the year in 2017 and 2008. A University of Oregon graduate, she joined the Statesman in 2005. Her family has lived in Idaho since the mid-1800s.