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Arkansas transgender healthcare trial wraps up final day of testimony

Lawyers leave the federal courthouse around lunchtime. Thursday was the final day of a lawsuit seeking to block a law banning transgender healthcare from going into effect.
Josie Lenora
Lawyers leave the federal courthouse in Little Rock around lunchtime on Thursday, the final day of a trial seeking to block a state law banning gender-affirming healthcare for minors.

The trial in a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of an Arkansas law banning gender-affirming healthcare for minors ended Thursday.

The American Civil Liberties Union sued on behalf of the families of four transgender young people. Act 626, known as the SAFE Act, would prohibit any form of gender-affirming medical care being used on patients under the age of 18. Lawyers with the state attorney general's office rested their case Thursday after a week of testimony.

The final witness called was Dr. Paul Hruz, a pediatric endocrinologist based in St. Louis. He spoke against using puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones on minors, but admitted to prescribing puberty blockers to young children who were experiencing early puberty. Hruz said he has never given the drugs to a patient with gender dysphoria.

Most of his testimony involved in-depth analysis of various endocrine disorders and their corresponding medications. Hruz also took issue with scientific research presented by the plaintiffs during the first week of the trial. Most notably, he objected to the testimony of Dr. Jack Turban, who conducted a study showing a link between allowing transgender minors to access puberty blockers and positive mental health outcomes. Hruz said Turban's research did not control for enough factors, and that the study had a recruitment bias.

Hruz said gender-affirming healthcare has “never been rigorously studied.” He said that most children who use puberty blockers go on to use hormones, and he was “concerned” about the effects those drugs could have.

“There is no biological measure of gender dysphoria,” he said.

On cross-examination, ACLU attorney Chase Strangio pointed out that Hruz often prescribes off-label drugs. The doctor also acknowledged that the hospital where he works has a gender clinic that prescribes gender-affirming medications. Strangio also questioned Hruz about his relationship with several Catholic organizations.

Hruz also admitted he went to the 2017 Alliance Defending Freedom conference in Arizona, which two other witnesses who testified for the defense also attended.

Lawyers for the Arkansas Attorney General put their witnesses on the stand after a five-week break in the case. On Wednesday, two people who once identified as transgender testified about their de-transition. A plastic surgeon and two psychiatrists also testified this week.

The defense rested its case Thursday, and a verdict from U.S. District Judge James Moody Jr. is expected sometime next year.

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