8th Circuit blocks Arkansas' ban on trans surgeries, puberty blockers for minors

A sign outside a classroom taken in 2016.
A sign outside a classroom taken in 2016. | REUTERS/Tami Chappell

An appeals court has upheld a temporary block on an Arkansas law aimed at banning the usage of puberty blockers and gender surgeries for minors suffering from gender dysphoria.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit unanimously ruled Thursday to uphold a lower court decision blocking the enforcement of the state ban, siding with a group of plaintiffs that included trans-identified children and their parents.  

Circuit Judge Jane Kelly, an Obama appointee, wrote in the court opinion that the plaintiffs "will suffer irreparable harm" if they are not given "a preliminary injunction."

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"Minor Plaintiffs would be denied access to hormone treatment (including needing to stop treatment already underway), undergo endogenous puberty — a process that cannot be reversed — and suffer heightened gender dysphoria," wrote Kelly.

"These factual findings are supported by Minor Plaintiffs' affidavits and are not clearly erroneous."

Kelly noted that both sides had presented scientific evidence before the lower court to back their views on whether treatments aimed at changing the gender of minors were beneficial or harmful.

"Even international bodies that consider hormone treatment for adolescents to be 'experimental' have not banned the care covered by Act 626," Kelly noted.

The Arkansas chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, which brought the litigation, celebrated the news of the circuit court decision in a statement Thursday.

"We are relieved for trans youth," said ACLU of Arkansas Executive Director Holly Dickson. "Research shows that denying gender-affirming care to transgender youth contributes to depression, isolation, eating disorders, self-harm, and suicide."

"Transgender people deserve the right to live healthy lives without fear and discrimination. It's time for the Arkansas Legislature to protect trans kids, not target them."

In April 2021, Arkansas lawmakers passed House Bill 1570, also known as Act 626 or the Save Adolescents From Experimentation Act, overriding a veto from Gov. Asa Hutchinson.

The legislation made Arkansas the first state to ban the use of puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones and surgeries that mutilate sex organs on gender dysphoric youth.

Jon Schweppe, director of policy and government affairs for the American Principles Project, a socially conservative advocacy organization, supports the bill and similar legislation that has since been enacted in other conservative states. 

"As most Americans recognize, we should not be pressuring young children into undergoing highly experimental, life-altering procedures to 'change' their sex before they are even old enough to make most other major decisions," stated Schweppe.

"It is unfortunate that the law's passage had to come over the veto of Gov. Hutchinson. While the governor claimed he was acting out of a conservative concern for restraining government, restraint is not always a good thing."

In May 2021, the ACLU filed a complaint against HB 1570 in district court, with the lower court judge siding with the plaintiffs and putting a block on the law while litigation continues.

Over a dozen state attorneys general signed onto an amicus brief in defense of the Arkansas law. 

"They threaten that Arkansas' law will result in increased suicides even though the research does not support such a claim," the brief states. "And they assert that the State's protection of its children is 'animus' against transgender youth, even though, among other problems with the statement, most of these children will not identify as transgender as adults since their dysphoria will have resolved naturally so long as they can be protected from Plaintiffs' preferred experiments."

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