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ACLU outlines legal argument against Arkansas trans youth healthcare ban

Andrew DeMillo
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.

An Arkansas law banning gender-affirming medical care for trans minors is set to be challenged in court beginning next week.

Attorneys with the American Civil Liberties Union held a press call Thursday previewing Monday’s court hearing. They're seeking to permanently block Act 626, also known as the Save Adolescents From Experimentation, or SAFE Act passed in 2021.

Speaking on behalf of her transgender daughter Sabrina, Fayetteville resident Lacey Jennen said the law unconstitutionally limits parents’ ability to make healthcare decisions for their children.

“Politicians and special interest groups do not know better than Sabrina, her doctors and her parents, the type of medical care she needs. Arkansas’ ban on gender-affirming care for trans youth goes against the best practices and recommendations of every major medical association on the treatment of gender dysphoria,” Jennen said.

Attorneys say the law also discriminates against trans youth by specifically banning treatments for the purpose of gender transition, and restricts the free speech rights of doctors, patients and families to discuss medical information.

ACLU of Arkansas Executive Director Holly Dickson says Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s veto of the bill following its passage by state lawmakers underscores their argument.

“When this bill came to his desk, he made an effort to educate himself and upon learning the medicine, science, facts and reality of how Arkansans would be affected by this law, he recognized it would harm trans youth and their families by taking away their rights,” Dickson said.

Hutchinson’s veto was later overturned by lawmakers. Leslie Cooper, deputy project director for the ACLU’s LGBT & HIV Project, says the State of Arkansas plans to call four witnesses to give expert testimony in the case.

“Three of the four have no experience at all with transgender healthcare, just strong opinions. Two of them have already been discredited by other courts, and all of them offer a mischaracterization of the research on this type of care, and a distortion of how gender-affirming medical care is actually provided to adolescents,” Cooper said.

The SAFE Act was the first of its kind in the nation to ban minors from obtaining gender-affirming care, such as puberty blockers and hormone therapy. Similar laws and policies instituted in Alabama and Texas have since been struck down by the courts.

A federal appeals court in August sided with the ACLU in allowing the law to continue to be put on hold temporarily. Attorneys in Monday's trial are seeking a permanent block to the law.

The trial in the case is set to begin in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas on Monday, and will last approximately two weeks.

Daniel Breen is a Little Rock-based reporter, anchor and producer for KUAR.