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Court: Arkansas can’t ban treatment of transgender kids

2021-07-21-Dylan_Brandt-AP-1000.jpeg
Andrew DeMillo
/
AP
Dylan Brandt speaks at a news conference outside the federal courthouse in Little Rock, Ark., on Wednesday, July 21, 2021. Brandt, 15, has been receiving hormone treatments and is among several transgender youth who challenged a state law banning gender confirming care for trans minors.

A federal appeals court on Thursday said Arkansas can’t enforce its ban on transgender children receiving gender affirming medical care.

A three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a judge’s ruling temporarily blocking the state from enforcing the 2021 law. A trial is scheduled in October before the same judge on whether to permanently block the law.

Arkansas was the first state to enact such a ban, which prohibits doctors from providing gender confirming hormone treatment, puberty blockers or surgery to anyone under 18 years old, or from referring them to other providers for the treatment. 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, Act 626 discriminates on the basis of sex,” the court’s ruling Thursday said.

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 confirming treatments.

“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 statement. “The state has no business categorically singling out this care for prohibition.”

Arkansas argued that the restriction is within the state’s authority to regulate medical practices. Republican Attorney General Leslie Rutledge plans to ask the full 8th Circuit Court of Appeals to review Thursday’s decision, said spokeswoman Amanda Priest, adding that Rutledge was “extremely disappointed in today’s dangerously wrong decision by the three-judge panel.”

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

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

An attorney for the ACLU told the appeals panel in June that reinstating the restriction would create uncertainty for families around the state.

Hutchinson vetoed the ban following pleas from pediatricians, social workers and the parents of transgender youth who said the measure would harm a community already at risk for depression and suicide. Hutchinson said the law went too far, especially since it wouldn’t exempt youth already receiving the care.

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

Andrew DeMillo is the Capitol Correspondent for the Little Rock bureau of The Associated Press.