Landmark lawsuit begins over Arkansas ban on trans youth care

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — The nation’s first trial over a state’s ban on gender-confirming care for children began Monday in Arkansas, the latest fight against restrictions on transgender youth championed by Republican leaders and widely condemned by medical experts.

U.S. District Judge Jay Moody hears evidence and testimony about the law he temporarily blocked last year that would bar doctors from providing sex-confirming hormone therapy, puberty blockers or surgery to anyone under the age of 18. It also prevents doctors from referring patients elsewhere for such care.

If the law goes into effect, doctors who violate the ban could lose their license or face other professional disciplinary action and could be prosecuted.

The families of four transgender youth and two doctors who provide gender-confirming care want Moody’s to strike down the law, saying it’s unconstitutional because it discriminates against transgender youth, infringes on the rights of parents to make medical decisions for their children and infringes on doctors’ right to free speech. The trial is expected to last at least a week.

“As a parent, I never imagined that I would have to fight so that my daughter could receive the medically necessary health care that her doctor says she needs and we know she needs it,” said said Lacey Jennen, whose 17-year-old daughter received gender confirmation care.

Arkansas was the first state to enact such a ban on gender-confirmation care, with Republican lawmakers in 2021 overriding GOP Governor Asa Hutchinson’s veto of the legislation. Hutchinson, who had signed other restrictions on young transgender people, said the ban went too far in cutting care for those currently receiving it.

Several medical groups, including the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics, oppose the bans and experts say the treatments are safe if administered correctly.

Dr. Dan Karasic, a psychiatrist called by the plaintiffs to testify on Monday, dismissed many of the criticisms that state experts should level at gender-confirmation care. They include claims that doctors provide this care on demand without any assessment and without telling families about the potential risks.

Karasic, who has treated thousands of people for gender dysphoria, said these actions would violate the standard of care for such treatments and are not consistent with what he has seen from other doctors in the field. Karasic does not treat any of the young people challenging the Arkansas law.

Karasic said the possibility of irresponsible providers is no reason to ban care for transgender youth.

“There are certainly bad cardiologists, but if I have pain in my chest, I would still like to be able to get treatment,” he says.

But defenders of the law have argued that the ban is within the power of the state to regulate medical practices.

“This is about protecting children,” said Republican Attorney General Leslie Rutledge. “Nothing in this law prohibits someone after the age of 18 from making this decision. What we do in Arkansas is protect children from permanent life-altering decisions.

A similar law was blocked by a federal judge in Alabama, and a judge in Texas blocked that state’s efforts to investigate gender-confirming care for minors as child abuse. Children’s hospitals across the country have faced harassment and threats of violence for providing gender-confirmation care.

“This latest wave of anti-trans fever that is now spreading to other states started in Arkansas, and it must end in Arkansas,” said Holly Dickson, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union. of Arkansas, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the families.

A three-judge panel of the 8th United States Circuit Court of Appeals in August upheld Moody’s preliminary injunction blocking enforcement of the ban. But the state asked the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals to reconsider the case.

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