Federal Judge Overturns Arkansas Law Prohibiting Gender Transition Procedures
LITTLE ROCK – In 2021 the legislature approved Act 626, making Arkansas the first state in the nation to prohibit physicians from performing gender transition procedures on minors.
Since then at least 19 other states have enacted similar laws to prohibit procedures such as hormone therapy and surgery for adolescents under 18 who wish to change their genders.
Legal challenges were quickly filed against Act 626, and on June 20 a federal judge struck the law as unconstitutional. His ruling received national media attention and it probably will be referenced in the legal challenges filed in others states against their laws that seek to prohibit gender transition procedures for minors.
The law is called the Safe Act, which stands for the Arkansas Save Adolescents from Experimentation Act. It passed the Senate by a vote of 28-to-7 and the House of Representatives by a vote of 70-to-22. The governor at the time vetoed it, saying it went too far by denying care to adolescents who were already receiving medical treatment. The legislature overrode his veto.
Since the Safe Act was passed in 2021, Arkansas has elected a new governor and a new attorney general. The current governor criticized the federal judge’s ruling and the current attorney general said that the state would appeal it.
The federal judge ruled that Act 626 violates the equal protection clause of the Constitution because transgender adolescents would be denied medical care recommended by their physicians after consultation with their parents.
Every parent has the right to seek medical care for their children, the judge ruled, adding that the state’s evidence was insufficient to support its claims that the procedures banned by Act 626 are more dangerous than other medical procedures that are allowed for children.
The parents of adolescents who have received gender transition medical treatment testified that it helped their children. The state did not rebut their testimony. Several physicians and expert witnesses testified about the positive effect of gender transition medical treatment, and the state presented no evidence to dispute them.
The state presented only one expert witness who has experience treating adolescents with gender issues. The judge said he was a credible witness. However the witness’s testimony revealed a conflict between his scientific knowledge and his faith.
Another expert witness for the state is a sociologist. The judge did not credit his testimony because he lacked relevant experience and his evidence did not support his conclusions.
The judge said that another expert witness for the state, a physician who does plastic surgery, was not qualified to offer opinions in the case.
The state’s expert witnesses cited public health guidelines in the United Kingdom, Sweden and Finland to defend Act 626. However, the judge ruled that evidence shows that those countries do not prohibit gender transition care for minors.
“Most of the state’s expert witnesses … were unqualified to offer relevant expert testimony and offered unreliable testimony,” the judge said in his ruling. On the other hand, the expert witnesses presented by the plaintiffs all showed deep knowledge of the subject matter, and provided credible testimony relevant to the case.
The judge said on numerous occasions in his 80-page ruling that testimony presented by the state was lacking, or insufficient or irrelevant.
According to the evidence presented at trial, Act 626 would prohibit medical procedures that benefit adolescents, the judge ruled. His order prevents the state from enforcing it.