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Arkansas ruling could jeopardize Indiana’s ban on gender transition care for minors

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — An expert in medical law says a federal ruling on a gender transition care ban similar to Indiana’s sets precedent judges are likely to follow.

Arkansas was the first state to ban gender transition procedures for minors when lawmakers overrode then-Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s veto in 2021.

On Tuesday, Arkansas’ law became the first to be struck down by a federal judge. Judge Jay Moody ruled the broad-based ban violated the Equal Protection Clause. He noted side effects from hormone therapy and puberty blockers, while not unheard-of, are rare and in any case don’t prevent doctors from using them for other purposes. Moody also wrote the ban violates long-established court precedent concerning bodily autonomy and parents’ ability to make health care decisions on behalf of their minor children.

Jody Madeira, a professor at Indiana University Maurer School of Law, has areas of expertise that include medical and reproductive law. Madeira said Moody’s ruling could be used against Indiana’s ban. Signed into law this spring, Indiana’s law matches Arkansas’ almost word-for-word. Although Moody’s ruling is the only one so far to strike down such a ban outright, Madeira said preliminary injunctions against such laws play a role as well. Judge James Hanlon already has temporarily blocked Indiana’s law while the case goes to trial.

“All of them are influential on what happens at the state level,” she said, “especially because we see common themes. Courts state that these bans violate equal protection rights, free speech rights, other rights that come with medical care.”

Moody’s ruling also could jeopardize one of the witnesses the state plans to call upon to defend the ban. Dr. Paul Hruz, a pediatric endocrinologist at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, was one of several witnesses who testified in favor of Arkansas’ ban. Hruz told the court there is not enough evidence to prove the efficacy of gender-affirming medical care for minors but admitted under oath he has never treated a patient for gender dysphoria. He also said he has prescribed hormone therapy and puberty blockers to treat other disorders in adolescents.

“Most of the state’s expert witnesses” including Hruz, Moody wrote, “were unqualified to offer relevant expert testimony and offered unreliable testimony. Their opinions regarding gender-affirming medical care for adolescents with gender dysphoria are grounded in ideology rather than science.”

Madeira said that makes Hruz an impeachable witness. She says he could always change his testimony but this would likely further weaken his credibility in the eyes of the court.

Hruz did not return News 8’s call requesting comment.

Attorney Ken Falk with ACLU of Indiana said Moody’s ruling further demonstrates such laws intrude on constitutional rights. He said judges across the country and political spectrum so far have approved every single request for preliminary injunctions against them.

“What this ruling shows, along with the preliminary injunction determination is that both the law and the facts demonstrate that these statutes which attempt to deny transgender adolescents care are cruel and are unlawful,” he said.

Unlike Moody, who was appointed by President Barack Obama, Hanlon is a Donald Trump appointee. Madeira said that could play a role in Hanlon’s final ruling since Republican presidents tend to nominate more conservative judges but added the weight of scientific evidence is more likely to influence his decision.