On Tuesday, June 20, 2023, a groundbreaking ruling by U.S. District Judge James Moody Jr. permanently blocked Arkansas’ ban on gender-affirming care for minors, marking a major victory for LGBTQ advocates. The 80-page ruling concluded that the state of Arkansas violated multiple sections of the U.S. Constitution when it implemented a blanket ban on all gender-affirming treatments for individuals under 18. According to Judge Moody’s ruling, denying transgender minors access to crucial treatments such as hormone therapy would cause them irreparable harm. He also stated that postponing care until adulthood would force these teenagers to undergo changes that are inconsistent with their gender identity.
The verdict comes following a thorough eight-day trial in December, during which several of the state’s witnesses admitted to lacking experience in treating transgender teens and failed to provide any evidence that contradicted decades of scientific research. In fact, the evidence presented during the trial showed that gender-affirming medical care improves the mental health and well-being of patients, and by prohibiting it, the state of Arkansas undermined its own claimed interests in protecting children.
The lawsuit challenging the ban was brought forth by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on behalf of families with transgender teens and two physicians. This isn’t the first time Judge Moody has intervened; he previously blocked the law just days before it was originally set to take effect in 2021. Arkansas was the first state in the nation to implement such a ban, but other states like Alabama, Florida, and Indiana have temporarily put similar laws on hold.
One of the plaintiffs in the case, Dylan Brandt, a transgender teenager, expressed gratitude for the judge’s ruling, acknowledging how gender-affirming healthcare has positively impacted their life and the potential dangers posed by this law to countless transgender individuals.
In terms of constitutional claims, Judge Moody’s ruling states that Act 626 violated three parts of the U.S. Constitution: the First Amendment, the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and the Due Process Clauses of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. The ACLU successfully argued that Arkansas’ law curtailed physicians’ freedom of speech by preventing them from referring patients to other providers for gender-affirming care. Judge Moody agreed with this argument, stating that restricting speech related solely to “gender transition procedures” constituted a violation of the First Amendment.
The ruling also found that the law infringed upon the due process rights of Arkansans by taking away parents’ authority to make decisions regarding their child’s healthcare. Additionally, it was determined that the law discriminates against minors based on their sex, as it would not restrict access to gender-affirming care for minors who identify with the sex assigned to them at birth.
The passage of Act 626 in Arkansas faced opposition and controversy, despite Republicans holding a comfortable supermajority in the state’s legislature. After hearing compelling testimonies from advocates and transgender youth, the bill received final approval in April 2021. However, the then-Governor Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, vetoed the bill, arguing that it interfered with families’ private healthcare decisions. The veto was subsequently overridden by lawmakers in both chambers, paving the way for the law to take effect later that year.
Judge Moody previously issued a temporary restraining order against Act 626 in August 2021. This decision was later upheld by a federal appeals court in August 2022. During the subsequent eight-day trial in December, the state attorney general’s office contended that it was the state’s responsibility to protect children from “irreversible” medical procedures. However, several witnesses for the state testified against gender-affirming treatments, including puberty blockers and hormones, despite never having prescribed them to transgender teens. The court discovered that three of the state’s witnesses had been recruited at a meeting held by the Christian advocacy organization Alliance Defending Freedom, specifically aimed at gathering witnesses willing to testify in favor of laws that limit transgender care. The ruling emphasized that these witnesses testified based more on religious doctrine than on the requirements of experts.
Overall, the permanent blocking of Arkansas’ ban on gender-affirming care for minors is a significant win for LGBTQ advocates, affirming the importance of respecting the rights and well-being of transgender youth.
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Rohit Malhotra is a medical expert and health journalist who offers evidence-based advice on fitness, nutrition, and mental well-being. His articles aim to help readers lead healthier lives.