Federal appeals court rules Arkansas cannot ban gender-affirming care for youth

The US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit ruled Thursday that Arkansas may not prohibit doctors from providing gender-affirming care to transgender youth in the state.

In April 2021, the Arkansas legislature overrode the governor’s veto to pass Act 626, making Arkansas the first state in the nation to ban minors from receiving gender-confirming treatment. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued in May of last year on behalf of transgender youth, their parents, and two healthcare providers, alleging that the law violates the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment “because it discriminates on the basis of sex and transgender status by prohibiting certain medical treatments only for transgender patients and only when the care is ‘related to gender transition.'” A federal judge granted plaintiff’s motion for preliminary injunction last year, and Arkansas appealed.

In affirming the lower court’s decision Thursday, the US appeals court found that plaintiffs were likely to succeed on the merits and that the district court had not abused its discretion in blocking the law’s enforcement:

The district court found that the Act prohibits medical treatment that conforms with “the recognized standard of care for adolescent gender dysphoria,” that such treatment “is supported by medical evidence that has been subject to rigorous study,” and that the purpose of the Act is “not to ban a treatment [but] to ban an outcome that the State deems undesirable.” The record at this stage provides substantial evidence to support these factual findings.

A spokesperson for the Arkansas Attorney General expressed disappointment with the ruling and indicated that the state will seek review by the full Eighth Circuit.