Court: Arkansas cannot ban treatment of transgender children

A federal appeals court ruled Thursday that Arkansas cannot enforce its ban on transgender children receiving gender-affirming medical care.

A three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a judge’s decision temporarily barring the state from enforcing the 2021 law. A trial is scheduled for October before the same judge on whether to block definitely the law.

Arkansas was the first state to enact such a ban, which prohibits doctors from providing or referring sex-confirming hormone therapy, puberty blockers or surgery to anyone under the age of 18. to other providers for processing. There are no doctors who perform gender-affirming surgery on minors in the state.

“Because the minor’s sex at birth determines whether or not the minor can receive certain types of medical care under the law, Law 626 discriminates on the basis of sex,” the court ruling said Thursday.

The American Civil Liberties Union challenged the law on behalf of four transgender youth and their families, as well as two doctors who provide gender-confirmation treatment.

“The Eighth Circuit has been very clear that the state’s ban on care does not advance any significant government interest and that the state’s defense of the law lacks legal support or evidence,” Chase Strangio , deputy director of transgender justice at the ACLU Project’s LGBTQ & HIV, said in a statement. “The state does not have to categorically designate this care for prohibition.”

Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson vetoed the ban last year, but GOP lawmakers overruled it to enact the law.

Several medical groups, including the American Medical Association, oppose the ban and have said the care is safe if properly administered. The Justice Department also opposed the ban, calling it unconstitutional.

Arkansas argued that the restriction falls within the state’s power to regulate medical practices. An ACLU attorney told the appeals committee in June that reinstating the restriction would create uncertainty for families in the state.

Hutchinson vetoed the ban following calls from pediatricians, social workers and parents of transgender youth who said the measure would harm a community already at risk of depression and suicide. Hutchinson said the law goes too far, especially since it would not exempt young people who are already receiving the care.

A federal judge in May blocked a similar law in Alabama, and that state is appealing. A Tennessee ban that was enacted last year on transgender treatments for youth, which is limited to providing sex-confirming hormone treatment to prepubescent minors, remains in effect.

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