Judge overturns Arkansas ban on sex-based tutoring of transgender minors

The ruling only affects the Arkansas ban, but could have implications for the fate of similar bans in other states.

(Andrew DeMillo | AP) Dylan Brandt speaks at a news conference outside of federal court in Little Rock, Arkansas July 21, 2021. Brandt, a teenager, is among several transgender youth and families serving as plaintiffs under a state law prohibiting Dispute by gender Confirmation of care for transgender minors. A federal judge on Tuesday, June 20, 2023 ruled Arkansas’s first-ever ban on gender-based childcare in Arkansas unconstitutional.

Little Rock, Arkansas. • A federal judge on Tuesday ruled Arkansas’s first-ever ban on gender-based childcare in Arkansas as unconstitutional. This was the first ruling to overturn such a ban as more Republican-run states introduce similar restrictions.

US District Judge Jay Moody issued an injunction against Arkansas law that would have barred doctors from prescribing sex-affirming hormone treatments, puberty blockers or surgery to anyone under the age of 18.

The Arkansas law that temporarily blocked Moody in 2021 would also have banned doctors from referring patients elsewhere for such treatment.

In his order, Moody ruled that the ban violated due process and the equal protections of transgender youth and families. He said the law also violates medical providers’ First Amendment rights by prohibiting them from referring patients elsewhere.

“Rather than protecting children or protecting medical ethics, the evidence showed that prohibited medical care improves patients’ mental health and well-being, and that by prohibiting the state, the state is undermining the interests it purportedly advances,” Moody wrote Verdict.

Republican lawmakers in Arkansas enacted the ban in 2021, overriding a veto by former Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson. Hutchinson, who left office in January, said the law went too far by barring the treatment of children currently receiving such care.

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

“This decision sends a clear message. Scaremongering and misinformation about this healthcare does not stand up to scrutiny; It harms trans youth and needs to stop,” said Holly Dickson, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas. “Science, medicine, and law are clear: Gender-sensitive nurturing is necessary 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 under Arkansas law restricting or prohibiting sex-based child care, and federal judges have temporarily blocked similar prohibitions in Alabama and Indiana. Three states have banned or restricted nursing through ordinances or administrative orders.

Florida’s law goes beyond prohibiting juvenile treatments by also prohibiting the use of state funds for gender-specific care and imposing new restrictions on adults seeking treatment. A federal judge has blocked Florida from enforcing its ban on three children who have challenged the law.

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

The state has argued that the ban is within its jurisdiction to regulate the medical profession. People who oppose such treatments for children argue 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 treatments are safe when done properly.

The state is likely to appeal Moody’s decision to the US Eighth Circuit Circuit, which last year upheld the judge’s injunction to block the law.

Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Hutchinson’s successor, signed legislation in March that aims to effectively restore the ban in Arkansas by making it easier to sue providers of gender-affirming childcare. This law will not come into force until later this summer.

A trial lasting about two weeks before Moody included testimony from one of the transgender youth challenging the state ban. Dylan Brandt, 17, testified in October that the hormone therapy he received changed his life and that the ban would force him to leave the state.

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

Justin Scaccy

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