Federal judge strikes down transgender care ban

“A federal judge struck down an Arkansas law Tuesday that would have banned transition-related medical care for transgender minors,” NBC News reported on June 20, 2023 (read story here).

The judge issued a permanent injunction against the law, after ruling it’s unconstitutional.

Although his ruling directly affects only the Arkansas law, “it could have ripple effects across the country,” NBC News said; but as a practical matter, the validity of those laws will be decided by higher courts, and likely ultimately by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Such laws are part of the GOP’s political genocide campaign against LGBQT people, which also includes restricting drag shows, prohibiting gender discussions in schools, book bans, banning Pride flags, and opposing gay rights. Many of those laws have yet to be court-tested.

Transgender medical care includes medications (e.g., puberty blockers and hormones). Government regulation of drugs is well-established, but here we’re talking about science-based evaluation of safety and efficacy; what makes the Arkansas law different is it’s politically motivated and discriminatory.

Of course, abortion bans are politically, not medically, motivated too. The Supreme Court’s decision in Dodd, which overruled Roe v. Wade, tacitly approved of political interference in private medical decisions. Granted, it merely said there’s no constitutional right to abortion; but it opened the door to state regulation of abortions for political reasons, and the court did so quite deliberately.

State intrusion into transgender health care raises the same issue. If abortion bans are permissible, then banning transgender care should be, too. But it would logically follow that legislatures also could ban knee replacement surgeries or taking aspirin for a headache.

So, are there limits to health care regulation? Is there a line beyond which politicians can’t go without violating individuals’ rights? Could a legislature make appendectomies illegal for political reasons? This seems doubtful, so there must be such a line. But if so, where is it, and based on what? Science? Logic? Whatever the Supreme Court feels like?

I can’t guess where this might go. The Supreme Court may have given abortion unique treatment. No other issue really compares with it. And the Dodd decision cost the court a drastic decline in public confidence. Since then, perhaps stung by the public reaction, the court has appeared to back away from potentially unpopular decisions in a number of other areas.

Therefore, abortion might be the exception rather than the rule; and letting politicians interfere in the medical care of private citizens for discriminatory reasons may be a bridge farther than the justices are prepared to go. We could end up with inconsistent rulings on abortion and other medical care because the justices have an instinct for self-preservation.

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