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Federal judge temporarily blocks Arkansas’ ban on gender-affirming treatment for trans youth

<i>ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images</i><br/>A federal judge on July 21 temporarily blocked Arkansas' ban on gender-affirming treatment for transgender youth from going into effect later this month.
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A federal judge on July 21 temporarily blocked Arkansas' ban on gender-affirming treatment for transgender youth from going into effect later this month.

By Devan Cole, CNN

A federal judge on Wednesday temporarily blocked Arkansas’ ban on gender-affirming treatment for transgender youth from going into effect later this month.

Judge James M. Moody Jr. granted a preliminary injunction against the ban that was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of four transgender adolescents in Arkansas and their families, as well as two doctors who provide gender-affirming care to trans youth in the state.

In his decision issued from the bench, Moody also rejected the state’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit, and his preliminary injunction will stand until he issues a final decision on the plaintiffs’ full complaint, according to Kacie Glenn, a spokeswoman for the judge.

The ruling means that, for now, Arkansas won’t be able to begin enforcing the ban on July 28, the day it was set to go into effect. The state’s GOP-led legislature enacted the ban in April after overriding Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s veto of the measure.

“This ruling sends a clear message to states across the country that gender-affirming care is life-saving care, and we won’t let politicians in Arkansas — or anywhere else — take it away,” said Holly Dickson, the executive director of the ACLU of Arkansas, in a statement.

“We won’t rest until this cruel and unconstitutional law is struck down for good,” she added.

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said later Wednesday that she plans to appeal the decision, claiming in a statement that the ACLU is using “our children as pawns for their own social agenda.”

But while Rutledge vowed to “aggressively defend” the law, Hutchinson said “the act was too extreme and did not provide any relief for those young people currently undergoing hormone treatment with the consent of their parents and under the care of a physician.”

“If the act would have been more limited, such as prohibiting sex reassignment surgery for those under 18, then I suspect the outcome would have been different,” the governor added in a statement.

Under the law, young people would not be able to access puberty-blockers, a treatment option for transgender youth that is used to prevent the onset of puberty. The measure also bans ​so-called cross-hormone therapy,​ a gender-affirming treatment that allows for trans people to ​change their physical appearances to be more consistent with their gender identities. The bill makes what it calls an “exception” for some intersex people with unspecified chromosomal makeup and hormone production, and those with difficulties resulting from previous gender-affirming treatments.

The ACLU argued in the lawsuit that under the law, trans youth in Arkansas “will be unable to obtain medical care that their doctors and parents agree they need — and those already receiving care will have their treatment abruptly halted — which could have serious and potentially life-threatening consequences.”

LGBTQ and medical advocates had strongly opposed the legislation, which they feared could have significant negative impacts on trans youth, who have a much greater risk of attempting suicide, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The federal government had urged the court to strike down the ban, saying in a filing last month that “federal law bars the state of Arkansas from singling out transgender minors for specifically and discriminatorily denying their access to medically necessary care based solely on their sex assigned at birth.”

More than a dozen states have considered bills limiting access to gender-affirming care for trans youth this year alone, according to the American Civil Liberties Union’s anti-trans bill tracker.

Chase Strangio, the deputy director for transgender justice with the ACLU’s LGBTQ & HIV Project, said on Wednesday that the organization “warned lawmakers that if they passed laws attacking trans people that they would see us in court.”

“Our work in Arkansas and around the country is far from over — including with this law,” he said in a statement.

This story has been updated with a statement from Gov. Asa Hutchinson.

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CNN’s Rebekah Riess contributed to this report.

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