The American Civil Liberties Union sued Arkansas on Tuesday in an effort to block enforcement of a recently passed law that prohibits physicians in the state from providing gender-affirming treatment for trans youth, arguing it violates the Constitution and will have “devastating consequences” for members of the community.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court 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, is reportedly the first legal challenge to Arkansas’ Save Adolescents from Experimentation (SAFE) Act, which became the first such ban to be approved by a state after Arkansas’ legislature overrode Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s veto of the measure last month.
The lawsuit also sets up an early challenge to one of the more closely watched anti-trans bills passed in 2021 — a year that has seen an unprecedented number of state bills that seek to impose restrictions on the lives of transgender Americans.
Under the law, young people will 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, which could go into effect later this summer, 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.
“Gender-affirming care is life-saving care for our clients, and they’re terrified of what will happen if this law is allowed to take effect. No child should be cut off from the medical care they need or denied their fundamental right to be themselves — but this law would do both,” said Holly Dickson, the executive director of the ACLU of Arkansas, in a statement.
“We’re suing to stop this cruel and unconstitutional law from taking effect and inflicting further harm on these children and their families,” she added.
Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, one of the defendants named in the suit, said Tuesday that she plans to “aggressively defend” the law in court.
“I won’t sit idly by while radical groups such as the ACLU use our children as pawns for their own social agenda,” she said in a statement.
CNN has reached out to the state medical board for comment on the lawsuit.
The ACLU argues 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 suicide, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The lawsuit says the law violates both the Equal Protection Clause and the Due Process Clause of the Constitution’s 14th Amendment, as well as the First Amendment because of its ban on allowing doctors to refer patients for gender-affirming care.
“The Health Care Ban barges into Arkansas families’ living rooms and strips Arkansas parents of the right to provide medical care for their children,” the lawsuit says in part, arguing the Due Process Clause “protects the fundamental right of parents to make decisions concerning the care, custody, and control of their children.”
Chase Strangio, the deputy director for transgender justice with the ACLU’s LGBTQ & HIV Project, vowed on Tuesday to mount a legal challenge to other bills around the country that target trans youth.
“These attacks against trans youth in Arkansas and in states around the country will not go unchallenged — not while they are debated in legislatures, not after they pass, not when they are discussed in public conversation,” he said in a statement. “Our work will not be done until every law that targets transgender people is struck down as unconstitutional and all transgender people are able to live without fearing discrimination and violence because of who we are.”
More than a dozen states have considered bills similar to the Arkansas SAFE Act this year alone, according to the American Civil Liberties Union’s anti-trans bill tracker.
This story has been updated with a statement from the Arkansas attorney general.