Arkansas Lawmakers Sued by ACLU Over Ban on Transgender Youth Health Care

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against the state of Arkansas, state Attorney General Leslie Rutledge and members of the Arkansas State Medical Board, arguing that a recently passed law limiting transition-related health care to minors in the state not only discriminates against transgender people but also violates physicians’ First Amendment rights. Plaintiffs in the suit include four trans youths and their parents, as well as two physicians who provide gender-affirming health care. 

Jo Yurcaba of NBC News has reported that “Arkansas’ law would not only ban physicians from providing transition-related care, but it would also bar them from referring trans minors to other providers who provide transition care. Additionally, it would prevent state funds, such as Medicaid funds, from covering gender-affirming health care for trans people under 18, and, according to the ACLU, it would allow private insurers to refuse coverage for transition care for people of any age.”

Lawyers for the ACLU argue that the ban violates the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment, “because it discriminates on the basis of sex and transgender status by prohibiting certain medical treatments only for transgender patients and only when the care is ‘related to gender transition.’” In other words, the same medications, such as hormones and puberty blockers, could be prescribed to cisgender minors if they aren’t for transition-related purposes.

“[The lawsuit] also argues that the bill interferes with the right to parental autonomy guaranteed by the due process clause of the 14th Amendment and that it violates the First Amendment by prohibiting providers from referring patients to other medical professionals,” Yurcaba reported.

When the bill reached Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s desk in April, he vetoed it, saying it was filled with “vast government overreach.” However, according to Yurcaba, the Legislature has since overridden his veto, “making Arkansas the first in the country to pass a restriction on transition-related health care” and scheduled to go into effect as early as July 28. 

But Holly Dickson, executive director of the ACLU of Arkansas, has vowed not to let that happen. 

“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 in a statement. “We’re suing to stop this cruel and unconstitutional law from taking effect and inflicting further harm on these children and their families.” 

Yurcaba reported that “Arkansas is one of 35 states that have considered bills targeting transgender people in 2021. The state and Tennessee are the only two to pass bills that will limit transition-related care. Arkansas is also one of eight states that have passed bills that will ban trans-student-athletes from competing on sports teams that align with their gender identity.” 

In a statement, 15-year-old Dylan Brandt, one of the plaintiffs in the case, said he fears losing access to the vital transition care he’s been receiving should the bill take effect.

“This is who I am, and it’s frustrating to know that a place I’ve lived in all my life is treating me like they don’t want me here,” Brandt said. “Having access to care means I’m able to be myself and be healthier and more confident — physically and mentally. The thought of having that wrenched away and going back to how I was before is devastating.” 

Another family involved in the case — Amanda and Shayne Dennis and their 9-year-old, Brooke — have said they will leave the state should the health care ban go into effect. 

“We have told all of our children that we will always protect them, but this law stands in the way of our child getting the medical care she will desperately need,” Amanda Dennis said in a statement. 

As noted in the ACLU lawsuit, science is on the side of the plaintiffs as well. All major medical associations — including the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Endocrine Society and the American Psychological Association — support gender-affirming care for trans youth.

Chase Strangio, deputy director for transgender justice with the ACLU’s LGBTQ & HIV Project, said in a statement that the Arkansas lawsuit is the first of several suits the group will be filing over the coming months against a number of states “to make it clear that there is a robust movement of trans people and allies fighting for trans justice.” 

“Trans young people should not have to fight so hard to live. Even with supportive families, these bills have devastating consequences,” Strangio said. “Our work will not be done until every law that targets transgender people is struck down as unconstitutional and all transgender people are able to live without fearing discrimination and violence because of who we are.”

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