A federal judge struck down an Arkansas law Tuesday that would have banned transition-related medical care for transgender minors, declaring it unconstitutional.
U.S. District Judge James Moody Jr. of the Eastern District of Arkansas overturned and permanently blocked the law from taking effect, writing that it violates the First Amendment and the equal protection and due process clauses of the 14th Amendment.
“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.
The case was the first filed against a ban on gender-affirming care, and the decision marks the first time a judge has overturned such a law.
Though Moody’s decision applies only to Arkansas, it could have ripple effects across the country, as similar restrictions have become law in 19 other states and even more states have considered them.
Arkansas’ law, which passed after the majority-Republican Legislature overrode former Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s veto in April 2021, would have prohibited doctors from providing gender-affirming medical care, such as puberty blockers and hormone therapy, and barred them from referring minors to other providers.
The American Civil Liberties Union sued in May 2021 on behalf of four trans minors and their parents, as well as two physicians who provide gender-affirming health care, arguing that it violates the Constitution.
Attorneys for the state relied on five arguments to support the law, according to Moody’s opinion. They argued that there is a lack of evidence supporting gender-affirming care for minors, that the banned treatment has harmful side effects, that many patients will “desist” or stop identifying as trans when they grow older, that some patients will regret their transitions and that doctors are providing treatment without thorough evaluation and informed consent.
However, Moody wrote, “the evidence presented at trial does not support these assertions.” He said the state’s arguments didn’t explain “why only gender-affirming medical care — and all gender-affirming medical care — is singled out for prohibition.”
“The testimony of well-credentialed experts, doctors who provide gender-affirming medical care in Arkansas, and families that rely on that care directly refutes any claim by the State that the Act advances an interest in protecting children,” Moody wrote.
If the law were allowed to take effect, it would “cause irreparable harm” to the four trans youths, their parents and the doctors represented in the suit, he wrote.
Plaintiff Dylan Brandt, 17, a transgender boy, said in a statement Tuesday that he is 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.”
“My mom and I wanted to fight this law not just to protect my health care, but also to ensure that transgender people like me can safely and fully live our truths,” Brandt said. “Transgender kids across the country are having their own futures threatened by laws like this one, and it’s up to all of us to speak out, fight back, and give them hope.”
Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, a Republican, condemned the judge’s decision in a tweet Tuesday and said Attorney General Tim Griffin plans to appeal it to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
“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,” Sanders said. “Only in the far-Left’s woke vision of America is it not appropriate to protect children.”
Judges have temporarily blocked similar restrictions in Alabama, Florida and Indiana. Oklahoma has also agreed to postpone enforcement of its law pending the outcome of litigation.