Federal Judge Strikes Down Arkansas Gender-Affirming Care Ban
On June 20, a federal judge in Arkansas permanently blocked the state's ban on gender-affirming care for transitioning children and teenagers. Arkansas, the first state in the country to ban transition care for minors, is now the first state to have the restriction overturned.
In his ruling, United States district judge James Moody Jr. of the Eastern District of Arkansas wrote that the law violates the First and 14th Amendment rights of transgender youth, their families and medical professionals.
"Rather than protecting children or safeguarding medical ethics, the evidence showed that the prohibited medical care improves the mental health and well-being of patients and that by prohibiting it, the state undermined the interests it claims to be advancing," Moody wrote.
About the ban
Moody, who was appointed by former President Barack Obama, also wrote that the state failed to prove a number of its claims, including that the law was necessary to protect children and teens from treatments that were experimental or carelessly prescribed.
"The various claims underlying the state's arguments that the act protects children and safeguards medical ethics do not explain why only gender-affirming medical care—and all gender-affirming medical care—is singled out for prohibition," Moody wrote.
Arkansas' law, which Moody temporarily blocked in 2021, would have prohibited doctors from giving gender-affirming care to any adolescents, including puberty blockers, hormone treatment or surgery.
The legislation would have made it illegal for medical providers to refer patients elsewhere for that treatment.
The law was challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on behalf of the families of four transgender youths and two doctors. The ACLU argued the law violated transgender people's constitutional rights to equal protection, parents' rights to make medical decisions for their children and medical providers' rights to refer patients for medical care.
What was the response?
"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," said Dylan Brandt, a transgender youth and a plaintiff in the case, said in a press release from the ACLU.
In a statement posted on Twitter, Arkansas attorney general Tim Griffin, a republican, declared plans to appeal.
"Judge Moody misses what is widely known: There is no scientific evidence that any child will benefit from these procedures, while the consequences are harmful and often permanent," Griffin said. "We will appeal to the Eighth Circuit."
Republican governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders echoed Griffin's support for an appeal, tweeting, "This is not 'care'—it's activists pushing a political agenda at the expense of our kids and subjecting them to permanent and harmful procedures. Only in the far-Left's woke vision of America is it not appropriate to protect children."
According to a statement from the American Medical Association (AMA), gender-affirming care helps protect trans youth from mental health problems and supports healthy relationships with parents and peers. The AMA cites research showing decreased rates of depression and anxiety, and dramatic reductions in suicides when transitioning children receive the support and care they need.
The impact of the decision moving forward
The trial marks the first time a federal court has decided the legality of laws restricting gender-affirming treatments, which so far have been introduced in at least 20 other states. Many of these laws have been challenged in court, and so far bans in Alabama, Florida and Indiana have been temporarily blocked by preliminary injunctions by federal judges.
For now, this ruling affects Arkansas law only. However, the decision holds implications for the future of similar restrictions in other states and is expected to be the start of a long, nationwide legal battle over transgender rights.
"This decision sends a clear message," said Holly Dickson, executive director of the ACLU of Arkansas. "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."