The decision Friday by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit is the first time that an appeals court has ordered the state to pay for such a procedure. Denying Edmo her surgery was in violation of her rights under the Eighth Amendment, the court ruled, which prohibits “cruel and unusual punishments.” Five other inmates in the state have requested the procedure in 2019, CBS News reported.
Idaho Gov. Brad Little (R) said he will appeal the case.
“The court’s decision is extremely disappointing,” Little said in a statement. “The hard-working 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 opinion of the treating physician and multiple mental health professionals.”
Edmo pleaded guilty in 2012 to sexual abuse of a 15-year-old boy at a house party. She was 21 at the time of the crime, according to court documents. She will complete her sentence by July 2021, according to the Idaho Department of Correction.
Lori Rifkin, one of Edmo’s attorneys, said the governor’s statement hints at transphobic prejudice.
Marissa Morrison Hyer, press secretary for the governor, pointed out that the Corizon Health contract is funded by taxpayer dollars.
“The contract also includes a provision under which Corizon can seek costs associated with treatments or procedures not reasonably foreseen at the time the contract was awarded in 2013,” she said in a statement.
It was not clear whether Corizon planned to request taxpayer dollars for the procedure. But according to KVAL-TV in Boise, the state has spent more than $300,000 to appeal the case in court.
Edmo’s surgery is necessary, Rifkin said, and delaying it would cause more suffering and risk to her life. She said she’s also concerned about the governor’s reference to Edmo’s conviction when speaking about her rights to a gender confirmation surgery.
Inside prison walls, perceived pedophiles are at high risk for harm. In 2015, the Associated Press reported that male sex offenders accounted for nearly 30 percent of all homicides in California prisons.
But Edmo is entitled to protections under the Constitution, advocates say, no matter her crimes. Kimberly Mckenzie, outreach director for the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, said the court’s decision isn’t a victory but a stance for basic human rights.
“I think the conversation should not be about who is the face of this, but that trans people deserve access to affirming health care,” she said.
Rifkin, Edmo’s attorney, said her case boils down to the Constitution and what it says about how prisoners should be treated.
“Everyone in prison is there because they’ve been convicted of a crime,” she said. “There is no asterisk in the Constitution saying that because of a particular crime, they are excluded from constitutional protections.”
Other transgender inmates across the country have received gender confirmation surgeries that have included forms of public funding, but Edmo’s case could set a precedent for the care given to transgender inmates, said Sarah Warbelow, the legal director for the Human Rights Campaign.
“I hope that this decision will encourage lawmakers, whether it’s the Trump administration or state legislatures, to understand that being transgender is a normal part of the human condition,” Warbelow said.