The U.S. Department of Justice is seeking to stop Alabama's ban on gender-affirming health care for minors from going into effect.
The DOJ Friday filed a motion to intervene in a lawsuit against the ban, which is the first state law to criminalize the provision of such care. The department asks the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama, Northern Division, to keep the law from going into effect as scheduled May 8 and to issue an injunction stopping its enforcement permanently. The legal filing was shared on Twitter by Alejandra Caraballo, a clinical instructor at Harvard Law School's Cyberlaw Clinic.
The DOJ's action comes in the case of Rev. Eknes-Tucker v. Ivey. The Rev. Paul Eknes-Tucker, senior pastor of Pilgrim Church in Birmingham, four Alabama parents, and two health care providers filed suit against the law this month. They are represented by the GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Human Rights Campaign, and the law firms of Lightfoot, Franklin & White LLC and King & Spalding LLP. Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, who signed the health care ban (Senate Bill 184) into law, and several other Alabama officials are defendants.
The DOJ filing asserts that SB 184 "violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by on account of sex and transgender status."
"This case implicates the United States' ability to protect its sovereign interest in ensuring that all persons, including transgender youth, are afforded equal protection of the laws in accordance with the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution," the document reads.
The attorneys in the case welcomed the DOJ's interest. "We are encouraged to see the Department of Justice weigh in on this law that so severely interferes in the lives of Alabama families," HRC Legal Director Sarah Warbelow said in a statement to The Advocate. "Parents want to do what's best for their children, but SB 184 strips some Alabama parents of that ability by imposing criminal penalties for providing critically important and established medical care for their transgender children."
The law makes it a felony to provide gender-affirming care to minors, and violation is punishable with up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $15,000. The ban covers not only genital surgery, which is not generally performed on minors, but also puberty blockers and hormone treatment. Other states have considered bills criminalizing this care, but Alabama is the first where such legislation has passed. Arkansas last year approved a ban on gender-affirming care for minors, but it does not carry criminal penalties, instead providing for disciplinary actions by regulators. The Arkansas law is temporarily blocked while a suit against it proceeds.
The DOJ filed what is called a "statement of interest" in the Arkansas suit, saying it also violates the Constitution's guarantee of equal protection. It's one of several times since Joe Biden became president that the DOJ and other federal agencies have taken stands in support of LGBTQ+ rights.