Appeals Court Decides Arkansas Cannot Prohibit Treatment for Transgender Children

By Kiyana Patel

LITTLE ROCK, AR.A federal appeals court ruled that Arkansas’ restriction on transition-related medical procedures such as hormones or surgery for transgender youth under the age of 18 cannot be enforced. 


Arkansas Act 626 was passed by the Arkansas state legislature on April 6, 2021. The law  prohibits healthcare providers from administering gender transition operations to anybody under the age of 18, or referring anyone under the age of 18 to a healthcare professional for gender transition procedures even though, according to The Associated Press, no doctors in the state undertake “gender-affirming” surgery on children.


Arkansas Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson vetoed the restriction last year in response to requests from pediatricians, social workers, and parents of transgender children who claimed it would hurt a community already vulnerable to depression and suicide. Hutchinson argued the measure went too far, especially because it did not exempt children who were already getting treatment.


However, Republican lawmakers overrode his veto to enact the bill. 


The Act was enjoined by a district court, and the State appealed.


Arkansas was the first of many states to pass such legislation. In July 2021, the attorneys general of 17 other Republican-controlled states praised the Arkansas legislature for protecting vulnerable children from medicines such as puberty blockers, which have been labeled “experimental” by countries such as Finland, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.


“We are filing this brief because, like Arkansas, we are concerned about the recent increase in the number of children suffering from gender dysphoria and other forms of gender-related psychological distress,” Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall stated at the time. “We are worried, as are Arkansas and those who are challenging the SAFE Act, since these vulnerable youngsters are in dire need of assistance. The critical questions are how we might assist them and avoid major permanent damage.”


“The evidence also shows that nearly all children who are treated for gender dysphoria with puberty blockers to ‘buy time’ will go on to take cross-sex hormones and seek other medical interventions with irreversible, lifelong consequences—complications such as infertility, loss of sexual function, increased risk of heart attacks and strokes, bone density issues, risk of altered brain development, social risks from delayed puberty, and mental health concerns,” Marshall writes.


Several medical organizations, including the American Medical Association, have spoken out against Arkansas’s law and those like it, claiming that gender-affirming care is safe if properly delivered. 


The ban has also been condemned by the American Civil Liberties Union and the United States Department of Justice as unconstitutional.


The American Civil Liberties Union took action by filing a lawsuit seeking an injunction against Act 626 on behalf of four transgender children and their families, as well as two doctors who administer gender-affirming procedures.


“The state has no business categorically singling out this care for prohibition,” said Chase Strangio, deputy director for Transgender Justice at the ACLU’s LGBTQ & HIV Project.


Arkansas asserted that the ban falls under the state’s regulatory authority over medical practices. In June, an ACLU counsel told the appeals panel that maintaining the prohibition would cause uncertainty for families across the state.


The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ three-judge majority upheld a judge’s judgment temporarily barring the state from enforcing the 2021 law. 


A similar fate befell other states’ restrictions: injunctions blocked both Alabama’s law and an attempt in Texas to characterize gender-affirming care as child abuse under existing statutes.


A trial before the same court is scheduled for October to determine whether the law should be permanently blocked.

About The Author

Kiyana Patel, who moved away from home (Kenya) to pursue her future career aspirations of becoming a lawyer, is now a fourth-year senior at UCLA, majoring in Political Science and minoring in Labor Studies, and is a member of the honors society. Her community involvement is mostly centered on reforming US immigration policies and advancing social justice values in the US. She is an outspoken proponent of the undocumented immigrant population and is enthusiastic about improving immigration policies.

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