Landmark trial over Arkansas youth gender care ban resumes

Dylan Brandt speaks at a news conference outside the federal courthouse in Little Rock, Ark., July 21, 2021. Brandt, a teenager, is among several transgender youth and families who are plaintiffs challenging a state law banning gender confirming care for trans minors. A psychiatrist called to the stand by Arkansas, as the state defends its ban on gender affirming care for children, said Monday, Nov. 28, 2022, that he was concerned about the impact the law could have on some transgender youth who would see their treatments cut off. (AP Photo/Andrew DeMillo)

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — A psychiatrist called to the stand by Arkansas as the state defends its ban on gender-affirming care for children said Monday he was concerned about the impact the law could have on some transgender youth who would see their treatments cut off.

Dr. Stephen Levine, a psychiatrist at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Ohio, testified as the nation’s first trial over such a ban continued before a federal judge after a five-week break.

Arkansas’ law, which was temporarily blocked last year, would prohibit doctors from providing gender-affirming hormone treatment, puberty blockers or surgery to anyone under 18 years old. It also would prohibit doctors from referring patients elsewhere for such care.

Levine criticized the use of gender-affirming medical treatment for minors, but under cross examination acknowledged his concerns about the psychological impacts of cutting off such care for some trans youth already receiving it. Levine said it could be “shocking and devastating” for some youth receiving the care.

“My concern with the law, the way it was originally written, is it seemed to leave out what you’re talking about,” Levine testified.

Republican lawmakers in Arkansas enacted the ban last year, overriding a veto by GOP Gov. Asa Hutchinson. Hutchinson, who leaves office in January, also said that the law went too far by cutting off treatments for children currently receiving such care. Arkansas was the first state to enact such a ban.

Multiple medical groups, including the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics, oppose the bans and experts say the treatments are safe if properly administered. The American Psychiatric Association has supported the ruling blocking Arkansas’ ban, saying denying such care to adolescents who need it could harm their mental health.

But Levine said he recommends psychotherapy over gender-affirming care for the treatment of gender dysphoria, criticizing the current standard of care as using psychotherapy as “cheerleading” for such treatments.

Levine, however, testified that he wasn’t aware of what protocols are followed by doctors who provide such care in Arkansas.

The state has argued that the prohibition is within its authority to regulate the medical profession. People opposed to such treatments for children argue they are too young to make such decisions about their futures.

Levine echoed that argument, saying minor patients “really have very little concept of what their future holds.”

A similar ban has been blocked by a federal judge in Alabama, and other states have taken steps to restrict such care. Florida medical officials earlier this month approved a rule banning gender-affirming care for minors, at the urging of Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis.

A judge in Texas has blocked that state’s efforts to investigate gender-confirming care for minors as child abuse. Children’s hospitals around the country have faced harassment and threats of violence for providing gender-confirming care.

The families of four transgender youth sued challenging Arkansas’ ban. Last month, a 17-year-old testified that his life has been transformed by the hormone therapy he’s been receiving and said ending the treatments could force his family to leave the state.