A federal appeals court has said that Arkansas cannot enact Act 626, its law banning gender-affirming healthcare for transgender youth because the law relies on sex discrimination.
On Thursday, the three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court ruling blocking the state from enforcing the law.
Act 626, which was passed by the state legislature in April 2021, prohibits medical providers from offering puberty blockers, hormone replacement therapy, or surgeries to anyone below the age of 18. Such surgeries remain costly, inaccessible, and extremely rare for minors.
The law also prevents medical providers from referring trans youth to other providers who might offer such care. Any medical professional who violated the law would be subject to possible discipline by professional regulatory bodies.
“Because the minor’s sex at birth determines whether or not the minor can receive certain types of medical care under the law, Act 626 discriminates on the basis of sex,” the court’s ruling stated.
The lawsuit challenging the law was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on behalf of four trans youths, their parents, and two Arkansas doctors.
In a public statement celebrating the ruling, ACLU of Arkansas executive director Holly Dickson said, “Today, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed that no child should be denied medical care they need.”
“We are relieved for trans youth,” Dickson continued. “Research shows that denying gender-affirming care to transgender youth contributes to depression, isolation, eating disorders, self-harm, and suicide. Transgender people deserve the right to live healthy lives without fear and discrimination. It’s time for the Arkansas Legislature to protect trans kids, not target them.”
The ACLU also said that the law furthers no important governmental interest and that the state offered no legal or evidentiary support to show why the law should even exist.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) vetoed Act 626 in April 2021. But the Republican-led legislature overrode his veto. That same year, Hutchinson signed two other anti-LGBTQ bills: one banning trans student-athletes from playing on school sports teams matching their gender identities, and another allowing health care providers to refuse to perform procedures that they religiously or morally objected to.
Alabama and Arizona have both passed laws banning gender-affirming care for trans youth. Similar bills remain in committee in the Ohio and New Hampshire legislatures. Similar bills failed to become law in 12 other states.
The lower court judge who initially ruled against Arkansas’ law will hear a case in October on whether the law violates the rights of trans youth, their families, and health care providers.