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Arkansas judge strikes down state’s ban on gender-affirming care for minors

Close up of doctor lab coat wearing a stethoscope and heart-shaped trans flag pin
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A federal judge in Arkansas has struck down the state’s recently passed ban on gender-affirming care for transgender minors. The state’s Republican attorney general has pledged to appeal, but his appeal may not succeed in the appeals court since it previously ruled against the law.

Arkansas’s law forbade doctors from providing puberty blockers, hormone treatment, or surgeries to people under 18 (even though such surgeries aren’t performed on minors) and from referring patients to other places to receive such care. The law was passed by the state’s Republican-led legislature, overriding a veto from former Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R).

On Tuesday, federal Judge James M. Moody Jr., an appointee of former President Barack Obama, issued a permanent injunction stopping the law from being enforced. His ruling said that the law violated the due process and equal protection rights of trans youth and the free speech rights of doctors.

The judge noted that, despite legislators’ claims of gender-affirming care being “experimental” for youth, the medications involved had been used safely by minors for decades and are the course of treatment recommended by every major American medical association.

“The testimony of well-credentialed experts, doctors who provide gender-affirming medical care in Arkansas, and families that rely on that care directly refutes any claim by the State that the Act advances an interest in protecting children,” Moody wrote in his decision.

“Rather than protecting children or safeguarding medical ethics, the evidence showed that the prohibited medical care improves the mental health and well-being of patients and that, by prohibiting it, the State undermined the interests it claims to be advancing,” Moody’s ruling continued.

The American Civil Liberties Union brought the case challenging the law on behalf of the families of four transgender minors and two doctors. Similar rulings in Alabama, Florida, and Indiana have issued temporary injunctions against their laws. Moody’s ruling, however, marks the first time a federal judge has issued a permanent injunction against a state gender-affirming care ban.

Dylan Brandt, a 17-year-old transgender male plaintiff in the Arkansas case, said in a statement, “I’m so grateful the judge heard my experience of how this health care has changed my life for the better and saw the dangerous impact this law could have on my life and that of countless other transgender people.”

“My mom and I wanted to fight this law not just to protect my healthcare, but also to ensure that transgender people like me can safely and fully live our truths,” Brandt continued. “Transgender kids across the country are having their own futures threatened by laws like this one, and it’s up to all of us to speak out, fight back, and give them hope.”

Holly Dickson, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas, added, “This decision sends a clear message. Fear-mongering and misinformation about this health care do not hold up to scrutiny; it hurts trans youth and must end . Science, medicine, and law are clear: gender-affirming care is necessary to ensure these young Arkansans can thrive and be healthy.”

Moody’s ruling could also affect House Bill 1080, a law signed by Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders (R) that makes it easy to sue doctors who provide gender-affirming care. The law doesn’t go into effect until July 1.

The state’s Republican Attorney General, Tim Griffin, plans to appeal the ruling to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled against the ban in 2022.

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