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Civil rights group sues Arkansas over anti-trans health care law

The ACLU is suing to overturn a new state law that bans gender-affirming health care.

By Casey Quinlan - May 26, 2021
Protect Trans Kids rally

The American Civil Liberties Union is suing Arkansas over a law that bans gender-affirming health care, including hormone treatments and puberty blockers, for transgender youth.

The ACLU filed the complaint on Wednesday with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas. It names as plaintiffs two doctors, one who provides transition-related care and another who refers patients to doctors who do, and four families affected by the ban.

The civil rights group requests that the court declare the law unconstitutional and unenforceable before it takes effect over the summer. In April, the Arkansas legislature overrode Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s veto of the bill.

Hutchinson said he vetoed the bill because it was “over-broad, extreme and does not grandfather those young people who are currently under hormone treatment. In other words, the young people who are currently under a doctor’s care will be without treatment when this law goes into effect.”

H.B. 1570, the Save Adolescents from Experimentation (SAFE) Act, says doctors can’t provide gender-affirming care for people under age 18 or refer patients for these medically necessary treatments.

If they don’t comply, they face disciplinary action from a disciplinary review board or licensing entity, forcing doctors to choose between risking their practices and providing health care to trans youth. An Arkansas doctor told the American Independent Foundation that the law could result in talented physicians leaving the state or choosing not to move to Arkansas in the first place.

The ACLU says that the law is unconstitutional. It argues that the ban violates the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection under the law with regard to transgender kids and their families and doctors, as well as its guarantee of due process of law.

The complaint also charges that the law violates doctors’ free speech rights by not allowing them to refer patients for gender-affirming care and discriminates on the basis of doctors’ viewpoints on these treatments.

It also says:

Some parents of transgender children are making plans to move out of state should the law take effect out of fear for their children’s health and safety if they are unable to get necessary medical treatment. They may have to leave their jobs, businesses, extended families, and communities to get the treatment their children need. These families have already lived through the impact of untreated gender dysphoria on their children and have seen how treatment has enabled them to thrive. As one father put it, “We can’t go back.” But many families do not have the resources to uproot their lives and they are terrified about what will happen to their children if the law takes effect.

The complaint includes portraits and information about the families named as plaintiffs. One of those is the Dennis family, who plan to provide their daughter Brooke with puberty blockers at the recommendation of Brooke’s doctor.

In the short-term, Amanda and Shayne have explored their options for flying out-of-state for treatment. However, this is not a sustainable option financially. Further, the Health Care Ban would prevent Brooke’s physicians from referring her to a doctor in a state where gender-affirming care is not prohibited.


Amanda and Shayne’s only other option is to move out-of-state, and they will do so if necessary to get the treatment Brooke needs. But moving would impose significant hardship on the Dennis family. … They would also be moving away from Shayne’s elderly parents for whom they provide supportive care. Amanda and Shayne will do what is necessary to protect Brooke’s health and well-being, but they believe that they should not be forced to leave their state to do so.

The ACLU says that at least six transgender adolescents in the state have attempted suicide since the bill’s passage.

According to a survey conducted by the Trevor Project between October and December of last year, more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth said they had seriously considered suicide in the previous 12 months. Research published in the journal Pediatrics in January 2020 shows that access to gender-affirming care is linked to a lower percentage of suicidal ideation in trans people.

Arkansas was the first state to enact a bill that prohibits gender-affirming care for transgender youth, but it is not alone.

Tennessee Republican Gov. Bill Lee recently signed a bill into law that bans the care for young people who haven’t entered puberty. In doing so, the state has unnecessarily codified into law what are already accepted medical standards for gender-affirming care. Tennessee health care workers told the New York Times that no one is providing this care for kids who haven’t started puberty.

The Arkansas law is one of more than 250 anti-LGBTQ bills introduced in state legislatures this year, according to the Human Rights Campaign. 2021’s 17 enacted anti-LGBTQ bills are already more than the previous high number,  15 in 2015, with17 bills enacted so far.

Anti-trans legislation has been pushed by a number of national right-wing groups, including Alliance Defending Freedom, the Heritage Foundation, and the Family Policy Alliance.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

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