ACLU Takes Arkansas’ Transgender Youth Health Care Ban to Court

The law, which critics call the most extreme anti-trans legislation in the country, effectively bans transgender people under 18 from transitioning.

The Arkansas State Capitol in Little Rock. (Photo by Daniel Schwen from Wikipedia Commons via Courthouse News)

(CN) — Four families with transgender children and two doctors represented by the American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday challenging Arkansas’ first-in-the-nation ban on gender-affirming health care for transgender youth, and promised more legal challenges against anti-trans laws passed by other legislatures this year.

Arkansas became the only state in the country to pass legislation banning health care for trans youth after the Republican-dominated Legislature last month overrode Governor Asa Hutchinson’s veto within 24 hours of his refusal to sign it into law. In vetoing the bill, the Republican governor, who cannot seek re-election a third time because of term limits, called the law “a vast government overreach.”

The law, which critics call the most extreme anti-trans legislation in the country, effectively bans transgender people under 18 from transitioning. Specifically, it prohibits doctors from prescribing hormone replacement therapy and puberty blockers to trans youth and from performing gender-affirming surgeries on them.

Health care providers as well cannot refer a transgender person to other providers for treatment under the law.

ACLU of Arkansas Executive Director Holly Dickson called gender-affirming care “life-saving” and said the four transgender youths at the center of the lawsuit are terrified of the consequences if the law is allowed to take effect.

“This law would be devastating to trans youth and their families, forcing many to uproot their lives and leave the state to access the gender-affirming care they need,” Dickson said. “No child should be cut off from the medical care they need or denied their fundamental right to be themselves — but this law would do both. We’re suing to stop this cruel and unconstitutional law from taking effect and inflicting further harm on these children and their families.”

Supporters of the law say it is necessary to prevent young people from obtaining irreversible and permanently sterilizing gender-reassignment surgeries. The bill lists the risks of cross-sex hormone therapy, claiming it can cause heart attacks, strokes and raise incidences of cancer in both women and men.

But health experts agree the treatments are safe if properly administered and major medical associations, including the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics, have opposed the law.

The legal challenge by the ACLU was expected. While the trans health care ban in Arkansas is the first of its kind in the country to be signed into law in 2021, Mississippi and Tennessee ushered in similar anti-trans legislation limiting women’s athletics to those born female. The Arkansas law is set to take effect July 28.

Tuesday’s complaint says the law will have “devastating consequences for transgender youth in Arkansas” and noted that at least six transgender adolescents in the state attempted suicide in the weeks following the bill’s passage.

“These young people will be unable to obtain medical care that their doctors and parents agree they need — and those already receiving care will have their treatment abruptly halted — which could have serious and potentially life-threatening consequences,” according to the lawsuit. “For some transgender youth, the prospect of losing this critical medical care, even before the legislation is in effect, is unbearable.”

The plaintiff families include Dylan Brandt and his mother, Joanna Brandt; Brooke Dennis and her parents, Amanda and Shayne Dennis; Sabrina Jennen and her parents, Lacey and Aaron Jennen; and Parker Saxton and his father, Donnie Saxton.

Judge James M. Moody Jr., a Barack Obama appointee, has been assigned to oversee the case.

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