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Justice Department challenges Alabama law criminalizing transgender health care for minors

The agency asked a federal court to issue an order stopping the law from taking effect.
Transgender Rights Advocates Rally Against Alabama Legislation
Jodi Womack holds a sign that reads "We Love Our Trans Youth" during a rally at the Alabama State House, in Montgomery, Al., on March 30, 2021.Julie Bennett / Getty Images file

The Justice Department filed a lawsuit Friday challenging a new Alabama law that criminalizes certain medical care for transgender children, marking the first time the agency has sued a state over restrictions on gender-affirming care.

The complaint, filed in U.S. District Court in Alabama, asks the court to block the law from taking effect, arguing it violates the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause "by discriminating on the basis of sex and transgender status."

The Alabama law “would force parents of transgender minors, medical professionals, and others to choose between forgoing medically necessary procedures and treatments, or facing criminal prosecution,” the Justice Department said in a news release.

Gov. Kay Ivey, a Republican, signed the GOP-backed bill into law this month, making it a felony for parents and medical professionals to “engage in or cause” gender-affirming medical care to minors in the state, including puberty blockers, hormones and surgery.

In a statement, Ivey said she signed the bill because she believes that “if the Good Lord made you a boy, you are a boy, and if he made you a girl, you are a girl.”

“We should especially protect our children from these radical, life-altering drugs and surgeries when they are at such a vulnerable stage in life,” she added.

Ivey also enacted a bill that would prohibit transgender students from using school facilities divided by sex that align with their gender identities.

The governor's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the Justice Department's lawsuit.

The Justice Department complaint comes as Republican-led states enact laws and consider legislation aimed at the LGBTQ community, with many politicians seeking to campaign on the issue heading into the 2022 elections.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican who is up for re-election, signed a bill last month that would prohibit “classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity” in the state’s public schools.

The Justice Department's Civil Rights Division responded to the flurry of transgender-focused legislation by sending a letter to all state attorneys general in late March, warning them against enacting any measures that restrict federal constitutional and statutory provisions that safeguard transgender youth.

"Intentionally erecting discriminatory barriers to prevent individuals from receiving gender-affirming care implicates a number of federal legal guarantees," the agency wrote on March 31. "A state or local government must meet the heavy burden of justifying interference with that right since it is well established within the medical community that gender-affirming care for transgender youth is not only appropriate but often necessary for their physical and mental health."

The Justice Department last year issued a similar warning against states enacting laws affecting transgender athletes. It later filed court documents for cases in West Virginia and Arkansas.