DES MOINES, Iowa (KWWL) – Aiden Vasquez is one of the many Iowans who doesn’t feel comfortable with the gender he was assigned at birth.
While he came out as transgender several years ago, he says he still hasn’t completed his transition because he hasn’t had sex reassignment surgery. What’s stopping him is a 2019 amendment to chapter 216 the Iowa Code, which excluded these surgeries from Medicaid.
“Having to jump through so many hoops just to try to get coverage for this surgery has been mentally and emotionally very difficult,” Vasquez said during a Zoom press conference hosted by the ACLU of Iowa.
On Thursday, the ACLU filed a lawsuit trying to strike down the 2019 amendment as unconstitutional. Vasquez is listed as the plaintiff in the suit.
“This policy is a violation of the Iowa constitution because it facially and intentionally discriminates against people, simply because they are transgender,” Rita Bettis Austen said, legal director for the ACLU.
On March 8, 2019, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled in this exact way, saying it went against the Iowa Civil Rights Act to prohibit Medicaid funds for these surgeries.
However, Republicans in the state house brought the law right back to where it was in late April. Lawmakers added a subsection to the “unfair practices” section of the ICRA which called gender affirming care “cosmetic” and “plastic surgery”. It also clarified there could be no required public funding for the surgery.
“I would like everyone to understand we’re not talking about cosmetic surgery or something superficial,” Vasquez said. “This has affected my whole entire life in a negative way and has threatened my mental wellbeing.”
Sen. Mark Costello, R-Imogene, chaired the bill that led to the amendment in 2019. In response to the lawsuit on Thursday, Costello said the Supreme Court was out of line with its ruling in March of that year.
“The Department of Human Services had a policy not to force taxpayers to fund transgendered surgeries. In 2019, the courts got involved and again tried to legislate from the bench,” Costello said in a statement to KWWL.
“My colleagues and I do not believe taxpayers should be forced to pay for those surgeries and passed a law reinstating the previous policy,” he continued.
The ACLU plans to add a second transgender person seeking care to the lawsuit in the coming weeks.