Reliable health

Federal judge blocks Arkansas transgender health care ban

Dylan Brandt, one of the named plaintiffs in the lawsuit challenging Arkansas’ ban on gender-affirming medical care for transgender youth, speaks at a news conference outside the federal courthouse in Little Rock, Ark., on Wednesday, July 21, 2021.  (AP Photo/Andrew DeMillo, File)

A federal judge permanently blocked the controversial Arkansas statute that banned gender-affirming medical care for transgender youth Tuesday, making the Bear State the first to issue a merits ruling on such a law.

U.S. District Judge Jay Moody issued a permanent injunction against the law that would have prohibited doctors from providing gender-affirming hormone treatment, puberty blockers, or surgery to anyone under 18 years old. Arkansas’ novel law was passed after the state’s Republican lawmakers overrode fellow Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s veto in 2021.

“Rather than protecting children or safeguarding medical ethics, the evidence showed that the prohibited medical care improves the mental health and well-being of patients and that, by prohibiting it, the state undermined the interests it claims to be advancing,” Moody, a Barack Obama appointee, wrote in the first-of-its-kind ruling.

Over the course of 80 pages, Moody systematically dismantled Arkansas’ arguments and found that none of the state’s expert witnesses or related evidence held up in court.

In his ruling against Arkansas, Moody first cataloged the qualifications of the ACLU’s medical experts, listing their extensive experience treating patients with gender dysphoria, their medical education and experience conducting scientific research, and their respective high-profile positions in various well-respected medical institutions.

Moody summed up the court’s take on these experts:

Plaintiffs’ experts’ extensive experience, their testimony in court, and their demeanor and responsiveness to questions asked by both sides and the Court, show that all four of Plaintiffs’ expert witnesses have deep knowledge of the subject matter of their testimony and were fully qualified to provide the opinion testimony they offered. They have provided credible and reliable testimony relevant to core issues in this case.

In stark contrast, Moody said that most of Arkansas’ witnesses had been hand-picked and trained by conservative advocacy group Alliance Defending Freedom to testify in favor of transgender health care bans — despite their utter lack of training, experience, or credibility.

“The ADF is not a scientific organization, but a Christian-based legal advocacy group,” Moody noted.

The judge wrote that Arkansas’ witnesses were “unqualified” as experts and “offered unreliable testimony” which had been “grounded in ideology rather than science.”

Moody said that only one of Arkansas’ witnesses — Dr. Stephen Levine — had any actual experience treating patients with gender dysphoria, but that Levine gave entirely unreliable evidence and that Levine “struggles with the conflict between his scientific understanding for the need for transgender care and his faith.”

Levine testified that gender clinics “encourage patients to identify as transgender” and provide hormones “immediately without assessing patients.” He also said that doctors take such steps without addressing patients’ other mental health conditions or informing teens or parents about related risks of treatment. Despite Levine’s dire warnings, though, Moody said Levine offered no evidence that his accusations were true and even admitted that he had no knowledge about how gender clinics provide care.

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