Judge overturns Arkansas ban on gender-affirming care for transgender minors

Judge strikes down Arkansas’ ‘first in the nation’ ban on gender-affirming care for transgender minors, saying it discriminates against patients and violates doctors’ rights

  • Arkansas introduced the country’s first ban on the treatment of minors in 2021
  • It was quickly blocked by a federal judge who made it permanent on Tuesday
  • District Judge Jay Moody said it did the opposite of protecting young people

A federal judge Tuesday declared Arkansas’s first 2021 ban on gender-affirming care for children unconstitutional, in the first ruling of its kind, as a growing number of Republican-led states adopt similar restrictions.

It lays the groundwork for a series of future legal challenges as Republican candidates for the 2024 election use the issue in the culture war manifestos.

Arkansas was the first state to ban doctors from giving sex-affirming hormone treatments, puberty blockers, or surgery to anyone under the age of 18.

But U.S. District Judge Jay Moody temporarily blocked the law in 2021 and made the stay permanent on Tuesday.

In his order, he said the ban violates doctors’ rights and discriminates against transgender people.

A demonstration against the law in 2021 outside the Arkanas state capitol in Little Rock

“Rather than protecting children or protecting medical ethics, the evidence showed that the banned medical care improves the mental health and well-being of patients and that by banning it the state undermines the interests it claims to promote he wrote.

The law would also have prohibited doctors from referring patients elsewhere for such care.

And at least 19 other states have enacted laws restricting or banning gender-affirming care for minors since Arkansas led the way and almost all of them have been taken to court.

Moody’s ruling will be closely watched as it marks the first time a federal court has ruled on the legality of such bans.

The state’s attorney general immediately said he would appeal.

“Judge Moody misses the common knowledge: There is no scientific evidence that any child will benefit from these procedures, when the consequences are harmful and often permanent,” Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin said on Twitter.

“We will appeal to the Eighth Circuit.”

Republican lawmakers in Arkansas enacted the ban in 2021, overriding a veto by former GOP Governor Asa Hutchinson. Hutchinson, who left office in January and is now seeking the Republican presidential nomination, said the law went too far by cutting off treatments for children currently receiving such care.

Tim Griffin, the state's attorney general, immediately said on Twitter that he would appeal

Tim Griffin, the state’s attorney general, immediately said on Twitter that he would appeal

The ruling only affects the ban in Arkansas, but could affect the fate of similar bans, or discourage efforts to enact them in other states.

“This decision sends a clear signal. Fear mongering and disinformation about this health care will not last; it hurts trans youth and has to stop,” said Holly Dickson, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkensas.

“Science, medicine and law are clear: Gender-affirming care is needed to ensure that these young Arkansans can thrive and be healthy.”

The ACLU challenged the law on behalf of four transgender youth and their families and two doctors.

The ruling comes as even more states are on the cusp of banning care for transgender youth.

Louisiana’s Democratic governor has said he plans to pass a similar ban, though the Republican legislature likely has the votes needed to override it. Proposed bans are also pending in the North Carolina and Ohio legislatures.