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Fields v. Smith

Location: Wisconsin
Last Update: September 13, 2011

What's at Stake

(Formerly Sundstrom v. Frank)
Transgender prisoners are barred from medical treatment.

In 2005, the Wisconsin legislature passed a law that bars prison doctors from deciding the best course of treatment for transgender people by denying them access to any type of hormone therapy or sex reassignment surgery while in state custody The ACLU and Lambda Legal sued on behalf of two inmates incarcerated for nonviolent offenses: Kari Sundstrom and Andrea Fields, who were both serving time in Wisconsin prisons on forgery charges. Sundstrom, 41, had been on hormone therapy since 1990. Fields, 29, has been on hormone therapy since 1996.

Medical experts agree that blocking people from access to hormone treatment after they have been on the treatment is especially dangerous and could cause life-threatening damage. The lawsuit charges that it is a violation of the Constitution's guarantee of equal protection as well as the guarantee against cruel and unusual punishment to bar transgender inmates from access to individualized medical care. The plaintiffs in the lawsuit do not seek sex reassignment surgery, but merely seek to continue the hormone therapy they have received for all of their adult lives.


Victory! On August 5, 2011, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the 2005 Wisconsin law violates the constitution, striking it down in its entirety. The Supreme Court denied the state’s petition for certiorari, and the 7th Circuit decision stands.

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