Arkansas’ Ban on Trans Youth Care Deemed Unconstitutional: A Stride for Trans Rights?

In a move that’s being hailed as a crucial victory for trans rights, a federal judge in Arkansas has declared the state’s ban on gender-affirming care for transgender youth as flat-out unconstitutional. Judge James Moody didn’t hold back on his opinion on Tuesday, stating that the regulation unlawfully curbs access to vital medical treatments for trans and nonbinary kids in Arkansas.

What’s more, the law infringes upon the constitutional speech rights of doctors. According to Judge Moody, the ban restricts physicians from discussing alternative treatment avenues with their patients or their families, presenting a stark violation of the First Amendment.

This case was under close scrutiny, given that it was the first to take on a state’s ban on gender-affirming care for trans youth.

The Arkansas regulation, misleadingly termed as the “Save Adolescents from Experimentation Act” by its opponents, was signed into law by the Republican-dominated state legislature in 2021. The moniker of the law is a disingenuous and transphobic misnomer since the treatments it bans are not experimental. On the contrary, they’re backed by numerous studies confirming their effectiveness. It was the first law in the U.S. to restrict gender-affirming care for transgender youth.

While this ruling pertains to the Arkansas law, it’s expected to echo in courts nationwide where similar bans are being contested. Besides Arkansas, 19 other states have enacted bans on gender-affirming care, with some of these bans currently being held up by preliminary injunctions.

This judgment marks the first of its kind to classify these types of bans as unconstitutional.

Despite the clear ruling, Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders (R) announced the state’s plan to appeal. However, legal analysts suggest the appeal will face hurdles given the robust evidence presented in Moody’s ruling debunking the state’s rationale for banning gender-affirming care for young trans residents.

One notable point in the ruling is the reference to the state’s “experts” who lacked the necessary qualifications to discuss gender-affirming care. In one instance, a doctor, touted as an expert, had never even treated a patient for gender dysphoria.

Moody’s ruling highlighted how the state’s justification for denying medical care to transgender youth crumbled against the solid evidence presented by the plaintiffs. The judge stated, “Rather than protecting children or safeguarding medical ethics, the evidence showed that the prohibited medical care improves the mental health and well-being of patients.”

Citing the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause, Judge Moody affirmed the fundamental right of parents to seek necessary medical care for their children, a right that includes pursuing gender-affirming care when medically recommended.

Chase Strangio, a trans rights advocate and attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union, who represented the families seeking to overturn the law, lauded the ruling.

“This victory shows that these laws, when tested by evidence, are indefensible under any standard of constitutional review,” Strangio, who has personally benefited from gender-affirming care, stated. “We hope that this sends a message to other states about the vulnerability of these laws and the many harms that come from passing them.”

This ruling is more than just a local win; it’s a nationwide call to action, signaling that it’s high time to reevaluate and reject these harmful and unconstitutional bans.