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Arkansas Ban on Gender-Affirming Care for Minors Struck Down by Judge

Arkansas Ban on Gender-Affirming Care for Minors Struck Down by Judge

Dylan Brandt and his mother, Joanna Brandt

It was the first such ban enacted and now is the first one ruled unconstitutional.

The first state law banning gender-affirming care for transgender minors has become the first one struck down in court.

In 2021, Arkansas legislators overrode then-Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s veto to pass a law banning the provision of puberty blockers, hormone therapy, and surgeries for people under 18 for the purpose of gender transition. It banned referrals for the procedures as well. Families and doctors in the state sued, and a federal judge had issued an injunction temporarily blocking enforcement of the law, but Tuesday he ruled it unconstitutional and made the injunction permanent.

“The State has failed to prove that its interests in the safety of Arkansas adolescents from gender transitioning procedures or the medical community’s ethical decline are compelling, genuine, or even rational,” U.S. District Judge James M. Moody Jr. wrote in an 80-page opinion. The ban violates doctors’ right to free speech under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, he said, adding that it also violates the Constitution’s guarantees of due process and equal protection of the laws.

“Substantial evidence” presented at the trial last fall demonstrated that the law, Act 626, “violates Plaintiffs’ constitutional rights,” Moody continued. “Testimony from the Minor Plaintiffs, their parents, Dr. [Kathryn] Stambough and the experts proved that they would suffer immediate and irreparable harm from Act 626 if it were to go into effect. This harm to Plaintiffs and the public interest is outweighed by any potential harm to the State of Arkansas caused by the entry of a permanent injunction.”

He therefore ruled that Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin and the Arkansas State Medical Board could not enforce the law. Unlike some bans enacted later, the Arkansas law did not make it a crime to provide gender-affirming care, but those who offered the care were subject to discipline by professional licensing boards and could be sued. Twenty states have passed laws banning some or all gender-affirming care for trans minors.

State officials haven’t said if they’ll appeal the ruling, although that seems likely. For now, though, the plaintiffs and their attorneys at the American Civil Liberties Union are celebrating.

“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,” Dylan Brandt, a 17-year-old transgender boy from Arkansas, said in an ACLU press release. “My mom and I wanted to fight this law not just to protect my health care, but also to ensure that transgender people like me can safely and fully live our truths. 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.”

“We’re relieved and grateful that the court has ruled in favor of these brave Arkansans and their rights, protecting life-saving care that should be available to all trans youth,” said Holly Dickson, executive director of the ACLU of Arkansas. “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.”

Chase Strangio, deputy director for transgender justice at the ACLU’s LGBTQ & HIV Project said the ruling was a offered reassurance to trans youth around the country and Arkansas.

“In state after state, transgender people are being forced to fight for our most basic rights, including access to the health care many of us need to live,” he said. “This victory shows that these laws, when tested by evidence, are indefensible under any standard of constitutional review. We hope that this sends a message to other states about the vulnerability of these laws and the many harms that come from passing them.”

The law firms of Sullivan & Cromwell LLP, Gill Ragon Owen, and the Walas Law Firm assisted the national ACLU and its Arkansas affiliate in representing the plaintiffs.

Pictured: Dylan Brandt and his mother, Joanna Brandt

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