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Federal Judge Blocks Arkansas Ban On Gender Confirming Treatments For Trans Youth

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Today, a federal judge in Arkansas put a temporary hold on a law that would ban gender affirming medical care for transgender minors. The law was the first of its kind to pass in the nation. It was set to go into effect next week, so the Arkansas case is seen as precedent-setting. Many other states are considering similar legislation. NPR's Melissa Block has been following developments.

Hey, Melissa.

MELISSA BLOCK, BYLINE: Hey there, Mary Louise.

KELLY: All right, so tell us more. Who is the judge and what exactly was this ruling?

BLOCK: Yeah, this is U.S. District Judge James Moody in Little Rock. He ruled from the bench today. He had heard arguments from the Arkansas attorney general on behalf of the state and from the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of the plaintiffs, who are four families with transgender children and their doctors. Judge Moody did not make a written ruling, but he did issue a temporary injunction siding with the ACLU. And among the things he said from the bench was this, to pull this care midstream from these patients or minors would cause irreparable harm. And since the law was set to go into effect next week, as you said, time was of the essence.

KELLY: Yeah. Now, the law was passed this spring by the Arkansas Legislature and notably over the veto of the Republican governor there, Asa Hutchinson. The formal title of this law, Save Adolescents from Experimentation Act. What does that mean? What would the law do?

BLOCK: Well, specifically, it would prohibit doctors from providing treatment like puberty blockers or hormones to youth under the age of 18 for the purposes of gender transition. It would also prohibit doctors from referring trans minors to others for treatment. The consensus from major medical organizations is that this treatment is the accepted standard of care for gender dysphoria, including for minors. And in issuing that veto that you mentioned, the governor called this a vast government overreach. The law would also ban surgical gender reassignment procedures that advocates for trans youth say are not practiced on minors anyway.

Before the hearing today, one of the plaintiffs, a transgender youth named Dylan Brandt - he's 15 - said in an affidavit to the court, going back to life like it was before treatment is an unbearable thought. And a number of Arkansas business groups actually also filed briefs saying that this law would be bad for business. They say they have employees with transgender children who would leave Arkansas if the health care ban does take effect.

KELLY: I'm guessing there has been a wide range of reaction to today's injunction.

BLOCK: You guessed correctly. Advocates for transgender youth, predictably, are overjoyed. Here's a statement from the head of the ACLU of Arkansas, Holly Dickson. She wrote, this ruling sends a clear message to states across the country that gender affirming care is lifesaving care. We won't rest until this cruel and unconstitutional law is struck down for good. That's from the ACLU.

Meanwhile, the attorney general of Arkansas, Leslie Rutledge, vows to appeal. And she said, I will not sit idly by while radical groups such as the ACLU use our children as pawns for their agenda. And I should mention that there are attorneys general from more than a dozen other states who filed a brief siding with Arkansas. These are states that have introduced similar bills of their own. And with so many bills introduced in so many states, this is going to be a long legal fight, not just in Arkansas but all around the country.

KELLY: NPR's Melissa Block.

Thanks, Melissa.

BLOCK: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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