Judge rules Arkansas ban on caring for transgender minors is unconstitutional


Dylan Brandt speaks at a news conference outside the federal courthouse in Little Rock, Ark., in 2021. Brandt, a teenager, is among several transgender youth and families who are plaintiffs challenging a state law banning out-of-care assistance that affirms the gender for trans minors. A federal judge on Tuesday ruled Arkansas’s first nationwide ban on gender-based child care unconstitutional. Andrew DeMillo/Associated Press

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. A federal judge on Tuesday struck down Arkansas’s first-in-the-nation ban on child care that affirms gender as unconstitutional, the first ruling to overturn that ban as a growing number of Republican-led states adopt similar restrictions.

US District Judge Jay Moody issued a permanent injunction against the Arkansas law, which would have prohibited doctors from providing gender-affirming hormone treatments, puberty blockers or surgery to anyone under 18.

Arkansas law, which Moody’s temporarily blocked in 2021, would also have prohibited doctors from referring patients elsewhere for such care.

In his order, Moody’s ruled that the ban violated due process and equal protection rights for transgender youth and families. He said the law also violated the First Amendment rights of health care workers by prohibiting them from referring patients elsewhere.

Rather than protect children or safeguard medical ethics, the evidence has shown that prohibited medical treatments improve patients’ mental health and well-being, and that by prohibiting them, the state has undermined the interests it claims to promote, Moody’s wrote in the his sentence.

Republican lawmakers in Arkansas enacted the ban in 2021, overriding former Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s veto. Hutchinson, who left office in January, said the law had gone too far by cutting off care for children currently receiving such care.

The ruling only affects the Arkansas ban, but it may have implications for the fate of similar bans, or discourage attempts to enact them, in other states.

This decision sends a clear message. The scaremongering and misinformation about this health care does not stand up to scrutiny; it hurts trans youth and it needs to stop, said Holly Dickson, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas. Science, medicine, and the law are clear: Gender-affirming care is needed to ensure these young Arkansans can thrive and be healthy.

The ACLU challenged the law on behalf of four transgender youth and their families and two doctors.

At least 19 other states have enacted laws restricting or banning caregiving to gender-affirming minors following Arkansas law, and federal judges have temporarily blocked similar bans in Alabama and Indiana. Three states have banned or limited assistance through administrative regulations or orders.

The Florida law goes beyond banning treatments for young people, also banning the use of state money for gender-affirming care and placing new restrictions on adults seeking treatment. A federal judge has prevented Florida from imposing its ban on three children who challenged the law.

Children’s hospitals across the country have faced harassment and threats of violence for providing such care.

The state argued that the ban falls within its authority to regulate the medical profession. People against such treatments for children argue that they are too young to make such decisions about their future. Major medical groups, including the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics, oppose the bans, and experts say the treatments are safe when administered correctly.

The state is likely to appeal Moody’s decision to the US 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, which last year upheld the judge’s interim order blocking the law.

Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Hutchinson’s successor, signed legislation in March that attempts to effectively reinstate Arkansas’s ban by making it easier to sue child care providers who assert gender. That law won’t go into effect until the end of this summer.

A trial about two weeks before Moody’s included testimony from one of the transgender youths challenging the state’s ban. Dylan Brandt, 17, testified in October that the hormone therapy he received has transformed his life and that the ban would force him out of state.

I am so grateful that the judge heard my experience of how this healthcare changed my life for the better and saw the dangerous impact this law could have on my life and the lives of countless other transgender people, Brandt said in a statement issued by the ACLU. My mother and I wanted to fight this law not only to protect my health care, but also to ensure that transgender people like me can safely and fully live our truths.

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