A federal judge in Arkansas on Tuesday struck down the state’s law forbidding medical treatments for children and teenagers seeking gender transitions, blocking what had been the first in a wave of such measures championed by conservative lawmakers across the country.
The case had been closely watched as an important test of whether bans on transition care for minors, which have since been enacted by more than a dozen states, could withstand legal challenges being brought by activists and civil liberties groups.
In his 80-page ruling, Judge James M. Moody Jr. of Federal District Court in Little Rock said the law both discriminated against transgender people and violated constitutional rights for doctors. He also said that the state of Arkansas had failed to substantially prove a number of its claims, including that the care was experimental or carelessly prescribed to teenagers.
“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,” Judge Moody wrote.
“Further,” he wrote, “the various claims underlying the state’s arguments that the act protects children and safeguards medical ethics do not explain why only gender-affirming medical care — and all gender-affirming medical care — is singled out for prohibition.”
The challenge to the law, which was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas and named several transgender children and a doctor as plaintiffs, argued that the ban violated transgender people’s constitutional right to equal protection, parents’ rights to make appropriate medical decisions for their children and doctors’ right to refer patients for medical treatments.
The decision was hailed as a significant victory for the L.G.B.T.Q. community, delivering a dose of certainty for transgender youth in Arkansas who had worried for nearly two years about losing access to puberty blockers and hormones.
The decision applies only to the Arkansas law, which Judge Moody had temporarily blocked just days before it was set to go into effect in July 2021.
Emily Cochrane contributed reporting.