Justice Department Sues Tennessee Over Law That Blocks Medical Care For Trans Youth

“No person should be denied access to necessary medical care just because of their transgender status,” the Justice Department said.

The Department of Justice sued the state of Tennessee on Wednesday over a restrictive new law that bans gender-affirming care for transgender youth.

The Biden administration filed the complaint against Tennessee’s SB1, alleging the new law violates the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause. The bill, which was signed by Republican Gov. Bill Lee last month, forbids minors from taking puberty blockers or receiving hormone therapies and from having surgeries that enable “a minor to identify with, or live as, a purported identity inconsistent with the minor’s sex.”

Any doctor who provides such care to their patients can by sued by a minor’s parent who did not consent to the treatment, and all ongoing treatments must end by March 31, 2024. The law is set to take effect on July 1 of this year.

“No person should be denied access to necessary medical care just because of their transgender status,” Assistant U.S. Attorney General Kristen Clarke said in a statement after the complaint was filed. “The right to consider your health and medically-approved treatment options with your family and doctors is a right that everyone should have, including transgender children, who are especially vulnerable to serious risks of depression, anxiety and suicide.”

The complaint follows a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal last week. The groups urged a court to block the law, saying the ban was forcing parents of transgender children to consider fleeing the state and was “creating a sense of desperation at the prospect of watching their children’s suffering resume and symptoms possibly worsen as they lose access to the care that has transformed their lives.”

The Tennessee law is the latest effort by Republicans to pass discriminatory state laws targeting the LGBTQ+ community. State legislatures have moved to limit medically necessary care to trans minors, block trans athletes from competing on school sports teams and bar drag performances across the nation in recent months. There are more than 450 anti-LGBTQ+ bills before lawmakers this year.

“Left unchallenged, it would prohibit transgender children from receiving health care that their medical providers and their parents have determined to be medically necessary,” Henry Leventis, the U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee, said of the new law in a statement. “In doing so, the law seeks to substitute the judgment of trained medical professionals and parents with that of elected officials and codifies discrimination against children who already face far too many obstacles.”

Lee argued Wednesday that the restrictive prohibitions were meant to protect children, pledging the state would fight to uphold the new restrictions.

“Tennessee is committed to protecting children from permanent, life-altering decisions,” the governor told CNN in a statement. “This is federal overreach at its worst, and we will work with Attorney General [Jonathan] Skrmetti to push back in court and stand up for children.”

Medical groups have long argued such bills are harmful to trans kids. The American Academy of Pediatrics has criticized lawmakers’ intervention in medical care, saying such laws interfere with doctors’ abilities to keep their patients healthy.

“The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that youth who identify as transgender have access to comprehensive, gender-affirming, and developmentally appropriate health care that is provided in a safe and inclusive clinical space,” the group said in 2021 when the GOP-led efforts first began to flourish. “These bills not only ignore these recommendations, they undermine them.”

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