MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- The U.S. Department of Justice is challenging an Alabama law making it a felony for doctors to treat transgender people younger than 19 with puberty-blockers and hormones to help affirm their new gender identity.
The department's motion, filed Friday, seeks to intervene in a lawsuit challenging the law as unconstitutional and seeking to block it from taking effect May 8.
The action comes after the department sent a letter to all 50 state attorneys general warning that blocking transgender and nonbinary youths from receiving gender-affirming care could be an infringement of federal constitutional protections.
Doctors and others would face up to 10 years in prison for violating the Alabama law. Trans youths and parents have said Alabama is trying to ban what they consider necessary and sometimes life-saving care.
"The law discriminates against transgender minors by unjustifiably denying them access to certain forms of medically necessary care," the complaint says. "As a result of S.B. 184, medical professionals, parents, and minors old enough to make their own medical decisions are forced to choose between forgoing medically necessary procedures and treatments or facing criminal prosecution."
Alabama is among several states with Republican-controlled legislatures that have advanced bills regarding transgender youths and LGBTQ issues. The Alabama law is the furthest-reaching and the first to criminalize the treatments.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott had ordered the state's child welfare agency to investigate reports of gender-confirming care for kids as abuse.
Arkansas also banned gender-affirming medications, but that law has been blocked from taking effect.
Alabama Republicans who support the state's law maintain it is needed to protect children. A spokeswoman for Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey said, "We are prepared to defend our Alabama values and this legislation."
Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall said in a statement Friday that the "Biden Administration has chosen to prioritize leftist politics at the expense of Alabama's children."
"As we will show in this case, DOJ's [Department of Justice's] assertion that these treatments are 'medically necessary' is ideologically-driven disinformation. The science and common sense are on Alabama's side. We will win this fight to protect our children," Marshall said.
State lawyers in an initial court appearance argued that the science of the treatments is in doubt and thus the state has a role in regulation. Marshall said there is a "growing body of evidence that using experimental drugs on vulnerable children suffering from gender dysphoria will lead to significant, lifelong harm."
Doctors who provide the treatments and medical groups said the treatments follow evidence-based accepted standards of care.
As the effective date of the law draws closer, some Alabama parents with trans kids say they feel their children are being exploited for political gain in a region that can already feel unwelcoming.
"LGBTQ have always been a part of our community, but we're silenced into hiding and beaten down by the Bible Belt," said Pamela Northington, the mother of a trans teen boy.
She said telling kids they have to wait is just adding years to their struggle. "The emotional state of the youth in transition is already in a heightened state because of the bullying, and the fear of not being accepted. I fear that for some of them, it may become tragic. "
U.S. District Judge Liles Burke has scheduled a Thursday hearing on a request to stop Alabama officials from enforcing the law while the court challenge goes forward.
Sarah Warbelow, legal director for the Human Rights Campaign -- an LGBTQ advocacy group -- said they are "encouraged to see the Department of Justice weigh in on this law that so severely interferes in the lives of Alabama families."