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A federal judge has temporarily blocked Arkansas’ ban on gender confirming treatments for transgender youth while a lawsuit challenging the prohibition proceedsBy ANDREW DeMILLO Associated PressJuly 21, 2021, 9:16 PM• 4 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleLITTLE ROCK, Ark. — A federal judge on Wednesday temporarily blocked enforcement of Arkansas’ ban on gender confirming treatments for transgender youth while a lawsuit challenging the prohibition proceeds.The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit in May asking U.S. District Judge Jay Moody in Little Rock to strike down the law that made Arkansas the first state to forbid doctors from providing gender confirming hormone treatment, puberty blockers or sex reassignment surgery to anyone under 18 years old, or from referring them to other providers for such treatment. The ACLU sought the preliminary injunction while its lawsuit proceeded.Moody found that the plaintiffs were likely to succeed with their challenge and that allowing it to be enforced would hurt transgender youth currently receiving the treatments.“To pull this care midstream from these patients, or minors, would cause irreparable harm,” Moody said.The law had been set to take effect July 28.The ACLU filed the lawsuit on behalf of four transgender youths and their families, as well as two doctors who provide gender confirming treatments. The lawsuit argues that the prohibition would severely harm transgender youth in the state and violate their constitutional rights.“This ruling sends a clear message to states across the country that gender affirming care is life-saving care, and we won’t let politicians in Arkansas — or anywhere else — take it away,” said Holly Dickson, executive director of the ACLU of Arkansas.An attorney for the ACLU had said the ban was forcing some families to consider uprooting from their homes to move to other states where the care was legal.“This care has given me confidence that I didn’t know I had,” Dylan Brandt, a 15-year-old transgender boy from Greenwood who is one of the plaintiffs, said at at a news conference after the ruling.Arkansas’ Republican-dominated Legislature overrode GOP Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s veto of the measure. Hutchinson vetoed the ban following pleas from pediatricians, social workers and the parents of transgender youths who said it would harm a community already at risk for depression and suicide.Hutchinson said the ruling indicates the law will be struck down for the same reason he vetoed it.“The act was too extreme and did not provide any relief for those young people currently undergoing hormone treatment with the consent of their parents and under the care of a physician,” Hutchinson said in a statement. “If the act would have been more limited, such as prohibiting sex reassignment surgery for those under 18, then I suspect the outcome would have been different.”There are currently no doctors in Arkansas who perform such surgeries on minors.Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, a Republican, said she planned to appeal the decision.“I will aggressively defend Arkansas’s law, which strongly limits permanent, life-altering sex changes to adolescents,” Rutledge said. “I will not sit idly by while radical groups such as the ACLU use our children as pawns for their own social agenda.”Moody issued the ruling shortly after hearing arguments from the law’s opponents and the state for about an hour and a half.The judge appeared skeptical of the state’s argument that the ban was targeting the procedure, not transgender people. For example, he questioned why a minor born as a male should be allowed to receive testosterone but not one who was born female“How do you justify giving that to one sex but not the other and not call that sex discrimination?” Moody asked.Arkansas argued that the state has a legitimate interest in banning the procedures for minors. Republican attorneys general from 17 states asked Moody to uphold the ban.Several major medical groups, including the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics, filed a brief with the court challenging the ban. The state Chamber of Commerce and the Walton Family Foundation, which was founded by relatives of Arkansas-based Walmart’s founder, also asked the court to block the ban.
A federal judge has blocked an Arkansas law banning nearly all abortions from taking effect this monthBy ANDREW DeMILLO Associated PressJuly 21, 2021, 2:43 AM• 4 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleLITTLE ROCK, Ark. — A federal judge on Tuesday blocked an Arkansas law banning nearly all abortions in the state while she hears a challenge to its constitutionality.U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker issued a preliminary injunction preventing enforcement of the law, which was set to take effect on July 28. The measure was passed this year by the majority-Republican Legislature and signed by GOP Gov. Asa Hutchinson.The ban allows the procedure to save the life of the mother in a medical emergency and does not provide exceptions for those impregnated in an act of rape or incest.Baker called the law “categorically unconstitutional” since it would ban the procedure before the fetus is considered viable.“Since the record at this stage of the proceedings indicates that women seeking abortions in Arkansas face an imminent threat to their constitutional rights, the court concludes that they will suffer irreparable harm without injunctive relief,” she wrote.The U.S. Supreme Court in May agreed to take up a case about whether states can ban abortions before a fetus can survive outside the womb, a showdown that could dramatically alter nearly 50 years of rulings on the procedure.That case, which focuses on a Mississippi law banning abortion 15 weeks into a woman’s pregnancy, probably will be argued in the fall, with a decision likely in the spring of 2022.Republican lawmakers in Arkansas and several other states, encouraged by former President Donald Trump’s appointments to the high court, enacted new abortion bans even before that case was announced. A South Carolina law enacted this year that bans abortions six weeks into a woman’s pregnancy has been temporarily blocked due to a court challenge.The bans were pushed by Republicans who want to force the U.S. Supreme Court to revisit its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion nationwide.The American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood, which had challenged the outright ban, hailed Baker’s decision. The groups are suing on behalf of Little Rock Family Planning Services, a Little Rock abortion clinic, and Planned Parenthood’s Little Rock health center. The groups are also representing a doctor who works at the Planned Parenthood clinic.“We’re relieved that the court has blocked another cruel and harmful attempt to criminalize abortion care and intrude on Arkansans’ deeply personal medical decisions,” ACLU of Arkansas Executive Director Holly Dickson said in a statement.Brandon Hill, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Great Plains, said Baker’s decision “demonstrates that the court fully understands the harmful and immediate effects this law would have on Arkansans.”Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, a Republican whose office had defended the law, was disappointed with Baker’s decision, a spokeswoman said.“She will be reviewing it to consider the appropriate next step to protect the life of the unborn,” spokeswoman Stephanie Sharp said in an email.Arkansas this year enacted 20 abortion restrictions, the most in a single state since Louisiana adopted that many in 1978, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that supports reproductive rights.Arkansas already had some of the strictest abortion measures in the country and two years ago Hutchinson signed into law a measure that would ban the procedure if the Roe decision was overturned. Another measure Hutchinson signed in 2019 banning abortions after 18 weeks of pregnancy is on hold due to a legal challenge.Hutchinson on Tuesday night said he hoped the case over Arkansas’ near-total ban would ultimately go before the U.S. Supreme Court.“This legislation had the dual purpose of protecting Arkansas’ unborn and challenging long-standing Supreme Court precedent regarding abortion,” he said in a statement. “I hope the Supreme Court will ultimately accept this case for review”
Public health researchers are calling the rapid rise in coronavirus cases in Arkansas a raging forest fire, and the state’s top health official says he expects significant outbreaks in schoolsBy ANDREW DeMILLO Associated PressJuly 20, 2021, 10:00 PM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleLITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Public health researchers on Tuesday called the rapid rise in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations in Arkansas a “raging forest fire,” and the state’s top health official warned that he expects significant outbreaks in schools.The model by the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences’ Fay W. Boozman College of Public Health projected a daily average of 1,039 new cases over the next week. The model also predicted an average increase of 169 new cases per day in children under the age of 17.Arkansas leads the country in new cases per capita, according to figures compiled by Johns Hopkins University researchers. The state also has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country, with only 35% of the population fully vaccinated.“COVID is no longer smoldering. It has broken out into a raging forest fire that will grow in size and strength,” according to the UAMS forecast. “We cannot stand still. We must act to reduce the consequences of this new surge to the extent possible.”The state’s cases on Tuesday increased by 1,875 to 367,007 total since the pandemic began, the Department of Health said.Dr. Jose Romero, the state’s health secretary, said he was concerned about the possibility of a “surge on top of this surge” when school begins this fall. Laws enacted this year prevent schools from mandating face masks or from requiring students and teachers to be vaccinated.“I expect to see this year significant outbreaks within the school system,” Romero said during a virtual discussion on vaccine hesitancy held by U.S. News & World Report. “What’s already telling me that’s going to happen are the number of day care closures that have occurred because of outbreaks occurring, and camp exposures and closures occurring.”Romero said the key to combatting those outbreaks will be parents stressing the importance of wearing masks.The White House’s vaccine coordinator was in Arkansas to meet with Romero, hospital leaders and other health officials about the outbreak in the state.Gov. Asa Hutchinson earlier this month began holding town halls around the state aimed at addressing people who have so far resisted getting vaccinated, and he planned more of the forums next week.The state’s virus hospitalizations on Tuesday increased by 28 to 815, with 313 in intensive care and 131 on ventilators. UAMS Chancellor Dr. Cam Patterson said the increases are straining hospital resources.“Our staffing is really stretched thin at this point,” Patterson said. “It’s not a matter of finding beds, it’s a matter of finding people to take care of patients, whether they’re COVID-19 positive or not.”
Former White House press secretary Sarah Sanders has raised another $4.2 million for her bid to become Arkansas’ next governorBy ANDREW DeMILLO Associated PressJuly 15, 2021, 4:50 PM• 2 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleLITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Former White House press secretary Sarah Sanders’ campaign on Thursday said she has raised another $4.2 million for her bid for Arkansas governor.Sanders’ campaign said the latest figures over the past three months mean she has raised $9 million total since launching her bid in January for the state’s top office. Sanders is running against Attorney General Leslie Rutledge for the Republican Party’s nomination.The majority of Sanders’ contributions so far have come from out of state, while more than $3 million has come from nearly 9,000 Arkansas donors, her campaign said.“It’s clear Arkansans want a leader who will defend our freedom and stand up to the radical left, grow our economy and create jobs, and increase access to quality education and opportunity for a brighter, more prosperous future,” she said in a statement.Four Democrats are also running for governor in the predominantly Republican state. One of the Democratic hopefuls, Chris Jones, last month said he raised more than $575,000 in the two weeks after he launched his campaign with a video that gained national attention.The candidates are running to succeed Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who is barred by term limits from seeking reelection next year.Sanders left the White House as former President Donald Trump’s chief spokeswoman in 2019. She launched her bid for governor in January with an online video that prominently featured the former president and echoed his rhetoric, promising to fight the “radical left” in the solidly red state.
Former NFL player Jake Bequette says he’s challenging Arkansas Sen. John Boozman in next year’s Republican primaryBy ANDREW DeMILLO Associated PressJuly 12, 2021, 7:52 PM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleLITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Former NFL player Jake Bequette on Monday announced he’s challenging Arkansas Sen. John Boozman in next year’s Republican primary.“What’s happening in Washington these days is a disgrace. Democrats have been taken over by radical socialists, and too many Republicans just go along to get along,” Bequette says in the ad as images of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez flash across the screen.Boozman, who was first elected to the seat in 2010 and was reelected in 2016, faces a crowded primary next year. Other challengers include Jan Morgan, a Hot Springs gun range owner who unsuccessfully ran against Gov. Asa Hutchinson in the 2018 GOP primary. Three Democrats are seeking the party’s nomination to challenge Boozman in the solidly red state.Boozman, also a former Razorback, won the endorsement of former President Donald Trump this year. He reported in April having more than $1.1 million in the bank for his reelection bid. Boozman served in Congress representing northwest Arkansas before was he as elected to the Senate.Boozman also has the support of other top Republicans in the state, including fellow Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton and former White House press secretary Sarah Sanders, who is running for governor.“John Boozman is a relentless, effective fighter for Arkansans,” Toni-Marie Higgins, a spokeswoman for Boozman’s campaign, said in an email. “John looks forward to sharing his strong, conservative record and continuing to serve the people of Arkansas.”Bequette’s campaign site touts him as “a true conservative who will advance the Trump conservative agenda.” Bequette doesn’t mention Boozman by name in his announcement video, but in an interview he said he thought the incumbent senator has spent too much time in Washington.“He’s been in Washington for over 20 years. He’s going on his third decade in Washington, in the swamp,” Bequette told The Associated Press. “I just think it’s time for a change, it’s time for someone new.”Bequette said he supports repealing the Affordable Care Act. He also called for completing construction of a wall along the United States’ border with Mexico that Trump advocated but has been suspended by the Biden administration.———This story has been updated to correct that Jan Morgan ran for governor in 2018, not 2014.
The Rev. Al Sharpton and attorneys for George Floyd’s family have joined family and friends in mourning a white Arkansas teenager shot dead by a sheriff’s deputyBy ANDREW DeMILLO Associated PressJuly 6, 2021, 9:35 PM• 4 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleBEEBE, Ark. — The Rev. Al Sharpton and attorneys for George Floyd’s family on Tuesday mourned a white Arkansas teenager fatally shot by a sheriff’s deputy, as they urged support across racial lines for efforts to reform police practices.Sharpton eulogized 17-year-old Hunter Brittain, who was shot and killed by a white Lonoke County sheriff’s deputy, Sgt. Michael Davis, during a traffic stop June 23 near Cabot, about 30 miles (50 kilometers) northeast of Little Rock.The killing in the predominantly white community has drawn the attention of national civil rights activists such as Sharpton, who said concerns about police tactics aren’t just limited to the Black community.“The issue of policing is not about Black and white,” Sharpton told a packed auditorium at Beebe High School, where Brittain was a rising senior. “It’s about right and wrong.”Many attending the memorial wore jeans and shirts that read “Justice for Hunter,” in a ceremony that included Floyd family attorneys Ben Crump and Devon Jacob. Both are representing Brittain’s family.Floyd died in May last year when a white Minneapolis police officer used his knee to pin the handcuffed Black man’s neck to the ground. His death sparked nationwide protests over policing and racial inequality.Crump and Jacob invoked other people killed by police, including Breonna Taylor, a Kentucky woman who was fatally shot during a botched police raid. Crump led the crowd in chanting, “Hunter Brittain’s life matters.”“Because he is not here, we all have to unite together and make sure people all over America know that we will get justice for Hunter Brittain,” Crump said.Lonoke County Sheriff John Staley last week fired Davis for not turning on his body camera until after he had shot Brittain. Staley said the only footage police have is from the aftermath. Arkansas State Police are investigating Brittain’s death. Davis is white.Authorities have released few details about the shooting. Brittain’s family has said the teenager was unarmed and was holding a jug of antifreeze when he was shot. Brittain’s family and friends have held protests nightly outside the Lonoke County sheriff’s office and have complained about the lack of information released.Staley on Monday said he welcomed those who want to peacefully protest, but that out-of-state activists could risk “inflaming an already difficult situation.”“The people of this county are good, decent people and they, like me, want to see accountability and transparency in this situation,” Staley wrote on the office’s Facebook page.The memorial included calls to pass federal legislation in Floyd’s name to overhaul police practices.“Hopefully, Hunter and his untimely death will finish what Hunter’s brother — George Floyd — and his death started,” Jacob said.Jesse Brittain, Hunter’s uncle, received a standing ovation when he called for an end to qualified immunity for police officers.“Your life had meaning, you’re loved and your family will not stop advocating until we have justice for you, Hunter,” he said. “And also justice for all of our other brothers and sisters dying at the hands of law enforcement hired to protect and serve us around this country.”As mourners filed into the high school auditorium Tuesday morning, photos and video of Brittain were displayed on a large screen above his casket, which was decorated with blue and white ribbons, the Chevrolet symbol and “Forever Chevy 17.” Family members said Brittain dreamed of becoming a NASCAR driver after graduation.