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Photo: ACLU of Arkansas
Arkansas is still barreling towards the wrong side of history. Photo: ACLU of Arkansas

Despite a veto, Arkansas moves ahead on the wrong side of history regarding trans rights

Governor Asa Hutchinson called the state’s recent bill banning gender-affirming healthcare to transgender minors “a vast government overreach.”

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On Thursday March 25, Arkansas passed HB 1570, a bill seeking to ban access to gender-affirming healthcare for transgender minors, including reversible puberty blockers and hormone therapy. 

The move was met with a heap of backlash from transgender advocates, medical professionals and school administrators. 

The resistance persisted through the end of March and into the first week of April. Regrettably, these kinds of political assaults are something the trans community, and more broadly, the LGBTQ community, is very accustomed to. 

Trans rights are nearly always at risk, thus the community, especially its avid defenders, are constantly on alert and prepared for the next battle on the horizon. 

On Monday, April 5, Gov. Asa Hutchinson vetoed the bill that would have made Arkansas the first state to bar trans minors from receiving gender-affirming medical care, including surgery, even with parental consent. 

The bill made what it called an “exception” for certain intersex people with unspecified chromosomal makeup and hormone production, and those with difficulties resulting from previous gender-affirming treatments.

LGBTQ and medical advocates aggressively lobbied against HB 1570, fearing that it could have significant negative impacts on trans youth, who already have a greater risk of dying by suicide, according to the CDC

However, a CDC study published in January 2020, found that if trans youth are given access to puberty blockers, their chances of suicide and mental health problems in decline substantially. 

Gov. Hutchinson called the bill, known as the Save Adolescents From Experimentation Act (SAFE Act), a “vast government overreach.” 

In his explanation, he told reporters that the SAFE Act would have “set new standards of legislative interference with physicians and parents as they deal with some of the most complex and sensitive matters involving young people.” 

However, Hutchinson did add that he believed the bill was “well-intentioned,” with the best interests of children in mind. There remains a large educational gap in topics surrounding trans identities and healthcare, and the governor described the legislation as a “product of the cultural war in America.” 

The bill, which was approved by the state House and Senate last month, would also prohibit medical professionals from referring patients to other healthcare providers for gender-affirming care for those under 18.
Providers who offered such care could lose their license to practice in the state and possibly face civil litigation.

Hutchinson’s move, although it’s been praised by advocates and others, is directly opposing the growing moment of anti-trans legislation occurring in Arkansas, as well as other states like Tennessee, Texas and Arizona.

Tennessee, South Carolina and Texas have already passed anti-transgender medical care bans since the start of 2021, and several other states have passed laws banning trans athletes from competing on sports teams matching their gender identity.

Gov. Hutchinson’s veto is not the final call for this bill. He predicted that the state’s Republican-controlled General Assembly would “likely override” his veto, pointing out that this would only require a simple majority vote. 

He remains hopeful, though, that his decision will cause conservative Republican legislators to think a little more deeply about the proposed law, and ideally “come up with a more restrained approach that allows a thoughtful study of the science and ethics surrounding the issue.” 

As he predicted, the House has voted to override his veto. Doctors have informed Arkansas lawmakers that they’d each be receiving a call when trans kids were hurt or died as a result of HB 170. 

The Senate vote is still to come.  

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