Arkansas’ Republican Governor Vetoes Anti-Transgender Bill

LGBTQ advocates praised Asa Hutchinson for vetoing a bill that would ban gender-affirming medical care for transgender youth, but the governor said he expects the state’s Republican-controlled General Assembly to override his veto.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, pictured here in April 2020, vetoed legislation that would have made his state the first to ban gender confirming treatments for transgender youth. (Tommy Metthe/Arkansas Democrat-Gazette via AP, File)

(CN) — Blocking Arkansas from adopting what critics say would be the most extreme anti-transgender legislation in the U.S., Governor Asa Hutchison on Monday vetoed a bill that calls for banning gender-affirming medical care for transgender youth.

The governor said he was concerned if House Bill 1570, dubbed the Arkansas Save Adolescents From Experimentation, or SAFE Act, went on the books it would prevent parents from acting in their children’s best interests.

“If (the bill) becomes law, then we are creating new standards of legislative interference with physicians and parents as they deal with some of the most complex and sensitive matters involving young people,” Hutchinson said.

The legislation would prohibit doctors from prescribing transgender people under age 18 hormone replacement therapy and puberty blockers and from performing gender-affirming surgeries on them.

It would also bar the use of state Medicaid funds for such procedures and ban insurance companies from selling plans covering gender-affirming care for people of any age.

Any doctor who referred a youth for gender-transition care or provided it themselves could have their license revoked.

Hutchinson said at a news conference Monday he would have signed the bill had it only barred gender-transition surgeries. But he said it is too extreme because it would not grandfather in those young people who are currently receiving hormone treatment, a position informed by his recent meetings about the measure with pediatricians, transgender people, social workers and parents.

“In other words, the young people who are currently under a doctor’s care will be without treatment when this law goes into effect,” he said.

LGBTQ advocates praised Hutchinson.

“This is a huge victory for the transgender and nonbinary youth of Arkansas,” said Sam Brinton, vice president of government affairs for the Trevor Project, which provides suicide prevention services for LGBTQ youth.

But the victory could be short-lived. Huthchinson said he expects the state’s Republican-controlled General Assembly will override his veto as it only takes a simple majority of the House and Senate to do so.

Hutchinson has had a mixed record on legislation affecting transgender people this session.

He recently signed a bill allowing doctors to refuse non-emergency procedures on religious or moral grounds, and another called the “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act,” barring trans girls and women from being on women’s sports teams or participating in sports expressly designated for females.

Mississippi’s and Tennessee’s Republican governors have signed similar legislation this year limiting women’s athletics to those born female.

Brinton, of the Trevor Project, urged Arkansas state lawmakers to follow Hutchinson’s lead “in acknowledging the mental health risks of this bill and let the veto stand” and to reconsider the state’s ban on transgender athletes.

Introduced by Robin Lundstrum, a Republican Baptist whose district office is in the city of Elm Springs, a small town 15 miles north of Fayetteville, the SAFE Act would stop short of completely banning doctors from providing medical care for transgender youth.

They could still provide services for minors born with both female and male reproductive organs, or otherwise abnormal sex chromosomes, and to treat health problems arising from gender-transition procedures.

According to the bill, its Republican sponsors are concerned the medical community is letting people in distress over their biological sex undergo irreversible and permanently sterilizing gender-reassignment surgeries.

It lists the risks of cross-sex hormone therapy, claiming it can cause heart attacks, strokes and raise incidence of cancer in both women and men.

Transgender youth are at increased risk of suicide, depression and substance abuse and many have been bullied by their classmates at school or on social media, according to health experts.

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