A coalition of 17 state attorneys general is defending a new Arkansas law that prohibits gender transition procedures for children, saying in a court filing this week it is the job of states to protect children from a medical community that has "abandoned" its responsibility to politics.
At issue is an Arkansas law that prohibits a "physician or other healthcare professional" from providing "gender transition procedures to any individual under eighteen (18) years of age." It was the first law of its kind in the United States.
The new law is being challenged in federal court and is known as the Arkansas Save Adolescents from Experimentation (SAFE) Act.
The coalition of attorneys general argues in a friend-of-the-court brief that the long-term effects of puberty blockers on minors are unknown. Further, the states argue, most cases of gender dysphoria among children "resolve naturally."
States have "been forced to step in to protect kids from experimental treatments," the brief says. Further, states typically have "broad authority" to "protect children," the brief asserts.
"The medical establishment has abandoned the field to the political zeitgeist, which labels dissenting opinions as 'animus' (or worse) and closes its ears to the tragic and growing chorus of detransitioners who feel betrayed by the adults who should have been caring for them," the brief says, referencing teens and adults who take puberty blockers, only to later change their mind.
The scientific evidence, the brief says, is far from certain.
"The science in this area is largely unsettled; nearly everyone agrees that far more research is needed; and the currently popular approach to care in the United States is not supported by well-researched, evidence-based studies," the brief says. "What is known, however, is that most cases of gender dysphoria in children resolve naturally with time, and it's impossible to know ahead of time whose dysphoria will persist into adulthood and whose won't."
Most children who take puberty blockers will "proceed to take cross-sex hormones and seek other medical interventions with irreversible, lifelong consequences." Such complications include infertility, increased risk of heart attacks and strokes, bone-density problems, risk of altered brain development and mental health concerns, the brief says.
"What are the outcomes for children who undergo Plaintiffs' preferred treatment?" the brief asks. "Or for the rising tide of adolescent girls who seem to have a new form of sudden-onset gender-related distress? Incredibly, no one really knows. The evidence is distressingly thin."
The states assert that the uncertainty is why the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services under the Obama administration "rejected a nationwide coverage mandate for adult gender transition surgeries." The states further note that hospitals in the United Kingdom, Finland, and Sweden have "recently altered their protocols to reduce or eliminate the use of hormone and surgical treatments for minors seeking gender transition."
In a statement, Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall said the coalition is concerned about a "surge in recent years of children suffering from gender dysphoria and other forms of gender-related psychological distress."
"[T]hese vulnerable children are suffering greatly and need help," he said. "The vital questions are, how do we help them, and how do we avoid serious irreversible damage."
The brief was signed by the attorneys general from Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee and Texas.
Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Vladimir Vladimirov
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.