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Arkansas governor vetoes ban on gender-affirming care for trans minors

"This would be and is a vast government overreach," Gov. Asa Hutchinson said of the bill.
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson speaks in his office in Little Rock on April 10, 2019.
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson speaks in his office in Little Rock on April 10, 2019.Andrew DeMillo / AP file

Gov. Asa Hutchinson vetoed a bill Monday that would have made Arkansas the first state to restrict gender-affirming medical care, such as puberty blockers, for transgender minors.

Calling the bill “a vast government overreach,” Hutchinson, a Republican, said at a news conference that the law would create “new standards of legislative interference with physicians and parents as they deal with some of the most complex and sensitive matters involving young people.”

The GOP-controlled Arkansas Senate passed the bill last week, and Hutchinson said he expects that the General Assembly will “likely” override his veto with a simple majority.

“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,” Hutchinson said.

More than three dozen other states are considering bills that target transgender minors, either by banning them from competing on school sports teams that align with their gender identity, or by restricting access to gender-affirming medical care.

Hutchinson and the governors in two other states — Mississippi and Tennessee — have signed trans athlete bans into law.

Hutchinson said during the news conference that major Arkansas medical associations opposed the bill to restrict gender-affirming care, and that denying care to transgender youth can “lead to significant harm to the young person from suicidal tendencies, social isolation to increased drug use.”

The governor said that while the population of trans minors in the state is a minority, “they deserve the guiding hand of their parents and of the health care professionals that their family has chosen.” He also added that gender confirmation surgery is not performed on people who are under 18 in Arkansas.

Supporters of the bill said they wanted to “protect” young people from “experimental” medical care, though medical professionals have noted that puberty blockers have long been used to treat precocious puberty in cisgender young people.

Advocates said Hutchinson’s veto is a victory for trans and nonbinary youth in 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,” said Sam Brinton, who uses gender neutral pronouns and is vice president of advocacy and government affairs for The Trevor Project, which works to prevent teen suicide.

Brinton said they hope the governor’s 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,” Brinton said.

Hutchinson said he sees the trans athlete ban and the restriction on gender-affirming care as “separate issues.”

The Alabama Senate approved a similar restriction on gender-affirming care, though Chase Strangio, deputy director for transgender justice at the American Civil Liberties Union LGBT & HIV Project, said it’s more extreme than the Arkansas bill, because it includes felony penalties for medical professionals who provide gender-affirming care to minors.

Strangio said that the ACLU will sue any state that passes trans athlete bans or restrictions on gender-affirming care, though he said he worries about litigation that could end up before the Supreme Court.

“People are overreliant on the court systems to stop these things from going into effect, and I think we may be really up for a rude awakening when we start to see more from this new Supreme Court,” Strangio said of the court, which now has a conservative majority with Trump nominees Neil Gorsuch and Amy Coney Barrett.

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