The legal action is “the latest action by the Justice Department to combat discrimination based on gender identity, including unlawful restrictions on medical care for transgender youth”, after the department issued a letter on Transgender Day of Visibility (31 March) to attorney generals across the country concerning the growing number of anti-trans bills.
The department warned states that laws which prevent supportive parents and guardians from helping their trans kids access “medically necessary or otherwise appropriate care” may infringe on “rights protected by both the Equal Protection and the Due Process Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment”.
But Alabama did not heed this warning.
SB 184 passed in the state’s House earlier this month April and just a day later, was signed into law by Republican governor Kay Ivey.
The legislation, set to go into effect on 8 May, makes Alabama the first US state to impose felony criminal penalties on people who “engage in or cause” gender-affirming healthcare – including puberty blockers, hormone therapy or gender-affirming surgeries – for trans youth.
Anyone convicted under the law, which could impact anyone, including medical professionals and parents, faces a 10-year prison sentence and a $15,000 fine.
On Friday, 29 April, the Department of Justice filed a complaint challenging the law, declaring that it “denies necessary medical care to children based solely on who they are”.
The complaint alleges that SB 184 “violates the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause” by “discriminating on the basis of sex and transgender status”.
The bill, according to the Justice Department “discriminates against transgender youth by barring them from accessing particular procedures while allowing non-transgender minors to access the same or similar procedures”.
For example, the complaint points out: “SB 184 permits a doctor… to prescribe testosterone for a cisgender male minor suffering from delayed pubertal development or a condition such as hypogonadism, but the law makes it a felony for the same doctor to prescribe the same testosterone to a transgender male youth to affirm his gender identity.”
Two doctors and two families of trans kids have already filed a lawsuit against the Alabama over the legislation.
The families said in the complaint, filed 11 April, that being denied the medically necessary treatment will be devastating to the mental health of their children. The lawsuit alleges that the new Alabama law violates the Affordable Care Act and the equal protection clause of the US Constitution.