Updated Apr 26, 2023 - Politics & Policy

DOJ sues Tennessee over ban on gender-affirming care for minors

Illustration of a child in silhouette holding a transgender pride flag over their shoulders like a cape

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

The Department of Justice filed a lawsuit Wednesday challenging Tennessee's new law that bans gender-affirming care for minors, which is due to take effect on July 1.

Driving the news: The DOJ argues in its court filing that the legislation violates the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause.

Details: The bill, known as SB 1, states that a health provider cannot "perform or offer to perform" any sort of gender-affirming care to trans minors.

  • Axios health care reporter Oriana González notes that to do so would put a provider at risk of lawsuits from the minor, their guardian or the state attorney general.

What they're saying: Henry Leventis, U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee, said in a statement that the bill "violates the constitutional rights of some of Tennessee's most vulnerable" citizens.

  • "Left unchallenged, it would prohibit transgender children from receiving health care that their medical providers and their parents have determined to be medically necessary," Leventis added.
  • Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the DOJ's Civil Rights Division added that the right to consider your health and medically approved treatment options with family and doctors "is a right that everyone should have."
  • This includes "transgender children, who are especially vulnerable to serious risks of depression, anxiety and suicide," Clarke added.

Zoom in: Supporters have framed Tennessee's gender-affirming care ban that Gov. Bill Lee (R) signed last month as an effort to protect children.

The other side: Lee in a Wednesday night statement called the DOJ lawsuit "federal overreach at its worst" and added "we will work with Attorney General Skrmetti to push back in court and stand up for children."

  • Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti said in an emailed statement on Thursday: "The federal government has joined the ACLU and an elite New York law firm in attacking a bipartisan law that protects children from irreversible harm.
  • "I welcome the opportunity to litigate these issues and vigorously defend Tennessee’s law."

Zoom out: Several Republican-led states are facing legal challenges after passing similar bills to ban gender-affirming treatments for minors.

Editor's note: This article has been updated with comment from Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee and state Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti, and with further context.

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