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“Federal Appeals Court Deliberating Nation’s First Ban on Gender-Affirming Care for Minors”

A federal appeals court is set to deliberate on Thursday regarding Arkansas’ pioneering prohibition on gender-affirming care for minors, a landmark case amidst the nationwide struggle over the regulation of transgender youth healthcare, with implications potentially reaching the U.S. Supreme Court.

Arkansas is contesting a federal judge’s 2021 ruling that invalidated the state’s ban, deeming it unconstitutional—the first such ruling against such a prohibition. Enacted in 2021, the law prohibits medical professionals from administering gender-affirming hormone therapy, puberty blockers, or surgical procedures to individuals under 18.

The case is being presented before the full 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, a departure from the usual three-judge panel, following a request by Republican Attorney General Tim Griffin. This procedural shift could hasten the case’s progression toward the U.S. Supreme Court, which has been petitioned to halt similar legislation in Kentucky and Tennessee.

While the timing of the 8th Circuit’s decision remains uncertain, an immediate ruling is unlikely.

Nearly two dozen states have implemented laws curtailing or prohibiting gender-affirming medical treatment for transgender minors, many of which are currently embroiled in legal challenges. Temporary injunctions have been issued by judges in Idaho and Montana, preventing the enforcement of these bans. These healthcare restrictions are part of a broader trend of backlash against transgender rights, spanning issues like restroom access and sports participation.

Last year, U.S. District Judge Jay Moody concluded that Arkansas’ healthcare restrictions violated the due process and equal protection rights of transgender youths and their families. Additionally, he determined that the ban infringed upon the First Amendment by prohibiting doctors from referring patients elsewhere for such treatment. Prior to its scheduled implementation in 2021, Moody had temporarily halted the law.

The ACLU, representing the families of four transgender minors and two healthcare providers, has denounced the ban as a “waking nightmare,” prompting affected families to contemplate relocating outside Arkansas to access necessary care. Arguments opposing the Arkansas ban will also be presented by a representative from the Justice Department.

Donnie Ray Saxton, father of one of the youths challenging the ban, expressed frustration, stating, “Despite the overwhelming evidence and expert testimony affirming the safety and effectiveness of gender-affirming care for trans youth, we find ourselves once again fighting for the basic right to access this life-saving treatment without unnecessary government interference.”

Numerous medical organizations, including the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics, have condemned Arkansas’ ban and urged the 8th Circuit to uphold the previous ruling against it.

The state contends that similar bans in Alabama, Kentucky, and Tennessee have been permitted by appeals court rulings. Arkansas’ attorneys argue that the banned care is “experimental,” a characterization disputed by Moody’s ruling, which cited decades of clinical experience and scientific research.

Arkansas’ ban was enacted following the Republican-controlled Legislature’s override of a veto by former Governor Asa Hutchinson, a Republican. Current Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders, also a Republican, has expressed support for the ban and signed legislation last year facilitating malpractice lawsuits against providers of such care.

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