A federal judge on Wednesday temporarily blocked Arkansas’s ban on gender-confirming treatments for transgender youths as a lawsuit over the first-in-the-nation state law advances.
The decision came in response to a legal challenge by the American Civil Liberties Union, which sought a preliminary injunction blocking the law enacted by Republican state legislators in April. Judge Jay Moody of the U.S. District Court in Little Rock also denied the state’s motion to dismiss the A.C.L.U.’s suit seeking to overturn the law.
The ban on sex reassignment surgery and gender-confirming treatments, like hormone treatment and puberty-blocking medication, was set to take effect on July 28.
“This ruling sends a clear message to states across the country that gender-affirming care is lifesaving care, and we won’t let politicians in Arkansas — or anywhere else — take it away,” Holly Dickson, the executive director of the A.C.L.U. of Arkansas, said in a statement.
The bill was one of more than 120 introduced in state legislatures across the country this year amid the growing conservative effort to restrict transgender rights, according to the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. This includes 36 health care bans in 22 states. The Arkansas State Legislature was the first body to vote a ban into law.
The Arkansas State Legislature in April overrode Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s veto of the bill. The governor, a Republican, had supported other laws limiting transgender rights, like allowing doctors to deny medical care based on their religious faith. But he has made the case that the legislation not only violates conservative principles but also can hurt Republicans politically.
After the judge made the decision on Wednesday, Dylan Brandt, a 15-year-old plaintiff in the case, said gender-affirming medical treatments were “lifesaving” and allowed him and other young people to feel comfortable in their own bodies.
“We understand that it can be confusing to understand,” Mr. Brandt told reporters outside the court, “but we ask that you are open to listening to trans youth.”
Mr. Brandt is one of four transgender youths named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit. Two doctors also joined the suit.
Supporters of the Arkansas bill, called H.B. 1570, say it will protect young people from undergoing irreversible medical treatments. The authors of the bill say “the risks of gender transition procedures far outweigh any benefit at this stage of clinical study on these procedures.”
Medical professionals reject that claim.
“Blocking access to timely care has been shown to increase youths’ risk for suicidal ideation and other negative mental health outcomes,” the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry said in 2019.
More broadly, in a 2018 statement, the American Psychiatric Association said there was “significant and longstanding medical and psychiatric literature” demonstrating the “clear benefits of medical and surgical interventions” for transgender people.
The state has 30 days to file an appeal of the judge’s temporary ban, Chase Strangio, a lawyer for the A.C.L.U., said on Wednesday. But for now, the A.C.L.U. is celebrating the win, however temporary.
“This was something that was looming and was so terrifying for so many young people,” Mr. Strangio, the lead lawyer in the suit, said.
Mr. Strangio said that since state lawmakers introduced the bill, he heard more reports of parents of transgender children calling clinics because they were worried about their children dying by suicide.
Serena Sonoma, a spokesperson for GLAAD, said in an email that what made this bill significant was that many families of transgender children decided to move out of the state “to provide better living conditions for lifesaving care for their kids.” Mr. Strangio added that as the July 28 deadline approached, more transgender people were moving out of the state.
“Young people were so scared about what it would mean if they lost their health care so, for now, they can breathe a sigh of relief,” Mr. Strangio said.
Wednesday’s decision came just one day after another federal judge temporarily blocked Arkansas from enforcing a strict new law that would ban nearly all abortions in the state.
H.B. 1570 is the second anti-transgender law passed this year that has been blocked by an A.C.L.U. lawsuit. Earlier this month, a federal court in Tennessee blocked a law that required businesses and other entities to post a warning sign if transgender people were allowed to use the public restroom that matches their gender.
In Louisiana on Wednesday, in another blow to Republican-led efforts to curb transgender rights, lawmakers failed to override the veto of the Democratic governor, John Bel Edwards, of a bill barring transgender athletes from school sports teams.
Mr. Strangio, in a statement, vowed to fight on in Arkansas. “We’re going to fight this law as far and as long as we need to,” he said, “to make sure that no young person in Arkansas has to worry about losing their medical care.”