In a significant ruling, a federal judge in the United States has invalidated an Arkansas statute that prohibits doctors from offering gender transition treatment to transgender minors.
Arkansas became the pioneering state to enact such legislation, which restricts access to hormonal and surgical procedures for individuals under 18 years old. Since then, approximately 19 other states have implemented comparable bans within the past two years.
But Tuesday’s ruling found Arkansas had failed to prove its law was about “protecting children”. The state’s leadership has vowed to appeal against the ruling.
The decision, by US District Judge Jay Moody, may have implications for similar measures in other Republican-led states. During an eight-day trial over the ban, the judge heard from children, parents and physicians, who said the children’s lives had changed for the better as a result of transitioning treatment.
The state meanwhile called four expert witnesses who questioned the safety of such treatment and the reliability of research on gender dysphoria, as well as two adults who had “de-transitioned”.
In his ruling, Judge Moody wrote that the state had “failed to provide sufficient evidence that the banned treatments are ineffective or experimental”, while plaintiffs had shown that the care “can relieve the clinically significant distress associated with gender dysphoria in adolescents”.
He said banning hormone treatment, puberty blockers or surgery for anyone under 18 violated the rights of transgender children and their families under the US Constitution.
Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin said the state would appeal, adding: “There is no scientific evidence that any child will benefit from Gender Transition Treatment , while the consequences are harmful and often permanent.”
Arkansas Republicans brought in the law in April 2021, overriding a veto by then-Governor Asa Hutchinson, a Republican who criticised it as a “vast government overreach”.
Supporters of the bill argued it was necessary to regulate medical decisions with “harmful and often permanent” consequences for young people.
Non-profit group the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) challenged the law on behalf of four transgender teenagers, their families and two doctors.