SCOTUS Takes on Trans Kids’ Health in New Culture War Front

Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to weigh whether or not a Tennessee law banning specific gender-affirming care for minors breaches the Constitution, marking the first time that the justices will consider arguments around medical treatments for trans children.

The Biden administration is challenging a ruling from a lower court that upheld the state ban on treatments including hormones and surgeries for children who experience gender dysphoria. Other Republican-led states have similarly taken steps to restrict transgender access to healthcare.

Arguments are expected to take place in the court’s next term, which begins in October.

Supreme Court OKs Idaho Ban on Gender-Affirming Care for Transgender Teens

According to the government’s petition to the court, the law blocking medical care for trans children violates the 14th Amendment—which mandates that the law should be equally applied to everyone—in part because it “frames that prohibition in explicitly sex-based terms.”

At the same time, the law leaves “the same treatments entirely unrestricted if they are prescribed for any other purpose” than trans medical care, the government argued in its appeal. The plaintiffs also argued that the ban breaches parents’ rights to make healthcare decisions for their kids.

Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar argued that the Supreme Court’s intervention is “urgently needed” because the Tennessee law “is part of a wave of similar bans preventing transgender adolescents from obtaining medical care that they, their parents, and their doctors have all concluded is necessary.”

At least 20 other GOP-led states have enacted restrictions on gender-transition treatments for children. The issue has been at the heart of heated disagreements on the rights of trans Americans in recent years, and have also encompassed other issues including sports participation, access to school books, and policies around sbathroom usage.

The Tennessee law prohibits clinicians from giving hormones and puberty blockers for the purpose of enabling “a minor to identify with, or live as, a purported identity inconsistent with the minor’s sex” or for treating “purported discomfort or distress from a discordance between the minor’s sex and asserted identity.”

Medical providers who violate the ban can face lawsuits and fines. In 2023, a federal judge blocked the Tennessee law on the grounds that it likely breached the 14th Amendment.

Later in the year, the Ohio-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled in a 2-1 decision to reverse the lower court’s decision.

The Biden administration asked the Supreme Court to weigh in, arguing that state bans “inflict profound harms on transgender adolescents and their families by denying medical treatments that the affected adolescents, their parents, and their doctors have all concluded are appropriate and necessary to treat a serious medical condition.”

In April, the high court justices allowed Idaho to mostly enforce a similar ban on gender-affirming care for minors.

The decision, which was opposed by the court’s three liberal justices, came in response to an emergency request from Idaho state officials. The ruling permitted the ban to go into effect while making an exception for the two plaintiffs who brought a legal challenge against it.

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