The Department of Justice filed a lawsuit on April 26 challenging Tennessee’s newly-enacted law banning transgender medical procedures for children, arguing that the legislation violates the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause.
In a press release, the DOJ said it also asked the court to issue an immediate order to stop the law—Senate Bill 1, or SB 1—from going into effect on its scheduled date of July 1.
SB 1 (pdf) was signed into law by Tennessee’s Republican Gov. Bill Lee on March 2 and bans health providers from performing medical procedures on minors for the purpose of either “enabling a minor to identify with, or live as, a purported identity inconsistent with the minor’s sex” or “treating purported discomfort or distress from a discordance between the minor’s sex and asserted identity.”
Under the law, minors cannot be held accountable for receiving the care but Tennessee’s attorney general can fine health care providers up to $25,000 if they are found to violate the law.
The legislation contains exceptions in some cases, such as when the treatment is needed for a child’s congenital defect, disease, or physical injury, or if the medical procedure on the minor had already begun prior to the law going into effect.
Gender-Altering Procedures ‘Experimental in Nature’
Prior to passing the bill, Republican lawmakers in the state had argued that the legislation was needed to protect the health and welfare of children, noting that gender-altering procedures could lead to children becoming irreversibly sterile, at increased risk of disease and illness, or suffering from adverse and sometimes fatal psychological consequences.
Tennessee lawmakers also said they believe such procedures are “experimental in nature and not supported by high-quality, long-term medical studies.”
However, the DOJ argued the legislation would make it illegal for health care professionals to provide “certain types of medical care for transgender minors with diagnosed gender dysphoria.”
Gender dysphoria is defined by the American Psychiatric Association as “psychological distress that results from an incongruence between one’s sex assigned at birth and one’s gender identity.”
The DOJ argues (pdf) that the blanket ban on “gender-affirming care” contradicts recommendations by major medical associations such as the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Psychological Association, who have all voiced support for gender transitioning among minors, arguing that it is safe and effective and in some cases lifesaving owing to the “increased risk of suicide in this population.”
The DOJ further alleges that the bill discriminates against transgender youth and violates the Equal Protection Clause by “discriminating on the basis of both sex and transgender status.”
“No person should be denied access to necessary medical care just because of their transgender status,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division. “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.”
Clarke added that the Civil Rights Division of the DOJ will “continue to aggressively challenge all forms of discrimination and unlawful barriers faced by the LGBTQI+ community.”
Elsewhere, U.S. Attorney Henry Leventis for the Middle District of Tennessee said that the bill, if left unchallenged, would violate the constitutional rights of some of Tennessee’s “most vulnerable citizens.”
Leventis added that the bill “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.”
Responding to the DOJ’s decision to file the lawsuit on Wednesday, Gov. Lee called it “federal overreach.”
“Tennessee is committed to protecting children from permanent, life-altering decisions,” the Republican wrote on Twitter. “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.”
At least 14 states have enacted laws aimed at protecting children from undergoing potentially life-altering medical procedures, including North Dakota, where Gov. Doug Burgum last week signed into law an emergency measure banning gender reassignment surgeries for children.