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DOJ challenges Tennessee transgender youth care ban

Beata Zawrzel/NurPhoto via Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) — The Justice Department filed a complaint to challenge a Tennessee law that bans gender-affirming medical care to transgender youth, arguing the law violates the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause.

The department is asking a U.S district court to issue an order to prevent the law from going into effect on July 1.

The law restricts medical procedures specifically for the purpose of gender transitioning, which would impact access to puberty blockers, hormone therapies and surgeries for transgender people under 18.

The new policy states that these restrictions supersede “any common law rule regarding a minor’s ability to consent to a medical procedure.”

The DOJ argues in the complaint, filed Wednesday, that the ban discriminates against transgender people on the basis of sex and gender identity, as these procedures remain available to non-transgender people.

“By denying only transgender youth access to these forms of medically necessary care while allowing non-transgender minors access to the same or similar procedures, SB 1 discriminates against transgender youth,” the DOJ said in a statement.

Major national medical associations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and over 20 more agree that gender-affirming care is safe, effective, beneficial, and medically necessary.

Gov. Bill Lee, who signed the legislation, defended the law.

“Tennessee is committed to protecting children from permanent, life-altering decisions,” he said in a tweet. “This is federal overreach at its worst, and we will work with Attorney General Skrmetti to push back in court and stand up for children.”

Gender-affirming care has been proven in several studies to improve the mental health of transgender youth, who are more likely to face anxiety, depression, suicidal ideations and more due to discrimination and gender dysphoria.

Gender dysphoria refers to the psychological distress of presenting as a gender that doesn’t feel like one’s own, according to the American Psychiatric Association.

“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,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke said in a statement.

At least 13 states — Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, South Dakota, Tennessee and Utah — have passed laws or policies that restrict gender-affirming care for people under the age of legal majority, which is the threshold for legal adulthood. Meanwhile, other states including California, Minnesota, Colorado, Illinois, Maryland, and New Mexico have passed laws or policies protecting transgender youth care.

Critics of these bans, including LGBTQ advocates and allies, argue that restrictions will impact the mental health of transgender youth, who already face discrimination and violence. They argue these bans infringe on a family’s right to make medical decisions with their doctors.

Supporters of the bans, including some conservative lawmakers, argue that transgender people should wait until they are legally adults before making these decisions.

ABC News’ Alexander Mallin and Cheris Rudy contributed to this report.

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