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Lawsuit challenging Arkansas transgender treatment law resumes in federal court

Federal courthouse
Michael Hibblen
The federal courthouse in Little Rock as seen on April 26, 2019. A lawsuit is challenging a law passed by the legislature banning gender-affirming health care for transgender minors.

Testimony in a federal lawsuit challenging Arkansas’ ban on gender-affirming care for those under the age of 18 is expected to wrap up on Thursday. That’s according to attorneys for the state who are defending the law passed last year by the legislature.

The lawsuit was brought by the ACLU on behalf of the families of four transgender young people. The law, which was the first of its kind to be passed in the U.S., prohibits things like puberty blockers or hormones being given to children.

The trial resumed Monday after a five-week break with the state calling to the stand clinical psychiatrist Dr. Stephen Barrett Levine of Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Ohio.

Levine testified that he was against such medical interventions, however, on cross-examination, confirmed comments he had made in a deposition where he admitted to recommending hormones to underage transgender patients during in his career. Levin said he gave gender-affirming care to minors in “rare,” “fraught” and “difficult” cases. In over 50 years of being a doctor, he claimed to have only seen about 50 underage transgender patients

Levine said he supports using medical interventions on transgender minors during clinical trials. He said was in a minority within the medical profession, since most journal articles support transgender care.

Dr. Levine expressed concern over what he claimed to be a large insurgence of minors identifying as transgender. He said he could “only speculate about the increase,” suggesting that the Internet could be influencing teenagers into a transgender social contagion. On cross-examination, he acknowledged he had counseled parents to support the transition of their children in the past.

“I am speculating,” Levine said, when describing his theory that women transition into being transgender males to handle menstrual discomfort and gender imbalances in society.

He claimed patients were able to access hormones too easily without psychological interventions. His testimony contradicted previous testimony by Dr. Michelle Hutchinson, the founder of the gender clinic at Arkansas Children’s Hospital. She testified last month that patients must be undergoing therapy for a set amount of time to receive gender-affirming hormones. Hutchinson said in over 300 patients, she has never known one to regret taking hormones. Dr. Levine said he could not speak on the specific treatment guidelines for transgender patients at Arkansas hospitals and that he did not know anything about them in the state.

Dr. Levine said he was against minors receiving genital surgery because they are irreversible and cause infertility. He said while there are many studies on the long-term effects of gender-affirming surgeries, there were not enough “excellent studies."

No doctor is performing genital surgeries on minors in Arkansas, before or after the law went into effect, Hutchinson had said.

Levine said he does not want patients to believe that transitioning would cause a patient to live “happily ever after.” He said there was a high suicide rate among the transgender population.

The law the ACLU is seeking to block would take transgender medicine away from those who are already using it. Levine said he was concerned about this and hoped the legislature would “work with doctors” to keep patients from losing the hormones who are already taking them.

An earlier version of this story misspelled the last name of Dr. Stephen Barrett Levine.

Josie Lenora is the Politics/Government Reporter for UA Little Rock Public Radio.
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