Arkansas Gov. Vetoes Bill That Would Deny Transgender Children Gender-Affirming Medical Care

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Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson vetoed a bill on Monday that would make it illegal for doctors to administer gender-affirming medication or surgery to transgender children.

H.B. 1570, which is called the Save Adolescents from Experimentation (SAFE) Act, is a piece of legislation proposed by Rep. Robin Lundstrum and Sen. Alan Clark.

"I was told this week that the nation is looking at Arkansas because I have on my desk another bill passed by the General Assembly that is a product of the cultural war in America," Gov. Hutchinson said in a press conference while announcing his decision to veto. "I don't shy away from the battle when it is necessary and defensible, but the most recent action of the General Assembly, while well intended, is off course."

He continued, "I'm hopeful that my action will cause conservative Republican legislators to think through the issue again, and hopefully come up with a more restrained approach that allows a study of the science and ethics surrounding the issue before acting."

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Hutchinson also said that he spoke to several Arkansas medical associations that told him that having transgender children denied their health care needs can "lead to significant harm to the young person from suicidal tendencies, social isolation to increased drug use."

Despite Hutchinson's veto, the Arkansas State Legislature could override his decision. Last week the Arkansas House voted in favor of the bill 70 to 22, and the Senate also voted in favor 28 to 7.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas said that if Hutchinson were to sign the bill into law, they would sue the state.

Under the bill, doctors are banned from prescribing hormone therapies or puberty blockers to transgender kids, performing transition surgeries or referring them to other doctors. Any doctor who provides those treatments could lose their license.

The bill also bans state-owned facilities from performing such treatments, restricts public funds from going to organizations that offer them and stops Arkansas' Medicaid from covering any gender-affirming medications or procedures.

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Health groups say that the lawmakers are misinterpreting how these treatments are used in transgender youth. Puberty blockers are a way to temporarily halt the puberty process and can be reversed, and the more permanent hormone therapies are not typically prescribed until the later teenage years. Gender-affirming surgeries, meanwhile, are not recommended for adolescents under medical guidelines and doctors are already not supposed to perform them on people under 18 years old.

ACLU lawyer Chase Strangio told The New York Times on Monday that advocates should be "tentative in our celebration" because of the possibility that the veto could be overridden.

"First and foremost, it's such an important rebuke of this sweeping range of legislation targeting trans youth across the country. I hope Alabama's watching. I hope Tennessee's watching," Strangio said of other states considering similar legislation.

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The Trevor Project, an organization dedicated to helping LGBTQ youth, also released a statement on Monday supporting the veto.

"This is a huge victory for the transgender and nonbinary youth of Arkansas. Thank you to Governor Hutchinson for doing the right thing by rejecting this dangerous bill — the Arkansas state legislature should follow his lead in acknowledging the mental health risks of this bill and let the veto stand," Sam Brinton, Vice President of Advocacy and Government Affairs of The Trevor Project, said.

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They added, "We hope this action sends a message to other lawmakers across the country considering similar bans on gender-affirming medical care, which would only work to endanger young trans lives. While they're at it, we'd also urge Arkansas to reconsider its misguided ban on trans student-athletes."

Hutchinson's veto comes a week after he signed a bill that prohibits transgender girls from participating on sports teams that match their gender identity, including extracurricular and elementary, middle or high school teams. Mississippi and Tennessee have also enacted similar laws.