The 8th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals on Thursday (Aug. 25) upheld a preliminary injunction against an Arkansas law that bans gender transition procedures for those under age 18. Plaintiffs say the law, Act 626, violates the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection clause.
Act 626 prohibits physicians and health care professionals from providing gender transition procedures to individuals under age 18, or to refer minors to other health care professionals. It also prohibits the use of public funds or insurance coverage for gender transition procedures. It does not prohibit services for persons born with a “medically verifiable disorder of sex development,” such as external biological sex characteristics.
The law was the first in the nation to block medical procedures for gender transition. Gov. Asa Hutchinson vetoed the bill, but the Legislature overrode the veto.
The law was set to take effect in July 2021, but U.S. District Judge James Moody blocked implementation of the law to allow for a court challenge. The plaintiffs are Dylan Brandt and his mother, Joanna Brandt of Greenwood; Brooke Dennis and her parents, Amanda and Shayne Dennis, of Bentonville; Sabrina Jennen and her parents, Lacey and Aaron Jennen, of Fayetteville; and Parker Saxton and his father, Donnie Saxton, of Conway.
Two doctors also are challenging the law. One is Dr. Michelle Hutchison, a pediatric endocrinologist at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) who provides puberty delaying treatment and, starting around the age of 14, gender affirming hormone therapy at the Gender Spectrum Clinic at Arkansas Children’s Hospital. The other is Dr. Kathryn Stambough, a UAMS pediatric and adolescent gynecology doctor who also works at the Gender Spectrum Clinic.
The lawsuit brought by the plaintiffs claims that about 160 patients are under the clinic’s care and 200 have been treated in total.
The Appeals Court essentially said the plaintiffs could win a court challenge and blocking the law will not harm the state’s claimed interest in establishing the law.
“(T)he district court did not err in concluding the Act is not substantially related to the State’s interest in protecting children from experimental treatment and regulating medical ethics, and plaintiffs have demonstrated a likelihood of success on their equal protection claim; the balance of the equities also favored plaintiffs; the district court did not abuse its discretion in granting a facial injunction,” the Appeals Court noted in its ruling.
Arkansas ACLU Executive Director Holly Dickson praised the decision.
“We are relieved for trans youth. Research shows that denying gender-affirming care to transgender youth contributes to depression, isolation, eating disorders, self-harm, and suicide. Transgender people deserve the right to live healthy lives without fear and discrimination. It’s time for the Arkansas Legislature to protect trans kids, not target them,” she said.