Karine Jean-Pierre
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Arkansas Transgender Kids Can Continue Receiving Health Care: Court

A doctor with long blond hair consults two patients each with long hair of darker shades.

The Arkansas ban on gender-affirming medical care for transgender minors will stay on hold, a federal appeals court ruled Thursday.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed a lower court judge's temporary block on the enforcement of the 2021 law, agreeing that it is discriminatory. It will remain blocked while a lawsuit against it is heard.

Among the first states to enact such a ban, Arkansas prohibits doctors from treating anyone under 18 with hormone therapy, puberty-blocking agents, or surgery, or referring them to other health care providers for these purposes. 

"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 Thursday said.

Several transgender youths and their families, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, challenged the law in court.

"The Eighth Circuit was abundantly clear that the state's ban on care does not advance any important governmental interest and the state's defense of the law is lacking in legal or evidentiary support," Chase Strangio, deputy director for transgender justice at the ACLU's LGBTQ & HIV Project, said in a press release. "The state has no business categorically singling out this care for prohibition."

Lawmakers overrode Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson's veto of the ban last year. His veto came in response to petitions from pediatricians, social workers, and parents of transgender youth; he said the ban would harm an already depressed and suicide-prone community. In addition, Hutchinson said the law went too far since it would not exempt patients already receiving the care.

According to the American Medical Association, the care is safe if administered correctly, and the scientific community strongly opposes the ban. Gender-affirming care for minors is generally limited to hormone treatment and puberty blockers; doctors do not recommend surgery for this population.

In June, the ACLU's lawyer told the appeals court that reinstating the restriction would create uncertainty for Arkansas families.

Tennessee maintains gender-affirming treatment restrictions for children, banning hormone treatment for prepubescent minors. That isn't administered at this stage anyway, but LGBTQ+ activists opposed the move because it’s still discriminatory and sets a bad precedent.

In May, a federal judge blocked an Alabama law that bans all gender-affirming treatment for minors but goes farther than the Arkansas one because it includes criminal penalities. The Arkansas law provides for discipline by professional regulatory bodies.

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