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An Arkansas House committee has passed a bill that would bar transgender people under the age of 18 from accessing gender-affirming health care to treat gender dysphoria.
The bill, bearing the Orwellian title of the “Arkansas Save Adolescents From Experimentation Act,” would threaten medical providers with disciplinary action if they recommend puberty blockers, hormones, or gender confirmation surgery to youths struggling with gender dysphoria. It would also allow anyone who undergoes medical treatments for gender dysphoria as a minor to sue the prescribing physician for up to 20 years after receiving the treatment, which will likely have the effect of intimidating doctors into refusing to treat transgender minors.
The measure expressly prohibits public funds, including Medicaid dollars, from being used to cover the costs of transition-related care, and prohibits any entity or medical practice that receives public dollars from prescribing treatments, being reimbursed for such treatments, or performing transition-related surgical procedures, including genital surgery, liposuction, lipofilling, pectoral implants, voice surgery, facial feminization procedures, or hair reconstruction. It also prevents private insurance from covering procedures or treatments prescribed to individuals under the age of 18.
“It is an accepted principle of economics and public policy that when a service or product is subsidized or reimbursed, demand for that service or product is increased,” the bill states.
Rep. Robin Lundstrum (R-Springdale), testified before the House Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee, saying the intent of the bill was to “protect children.”
“They can make these decisions when they’re over 18 and they’re adults and they can think about the decisions they want to make and they’re capable of making those decisions. But the first rule of medicine is do no harm,” she said. She also noted that the bill does not prevent children suffering from gender dysphoria from accessing counseling, according to University of Arkansas-Little Rock Public Radio.
Rep. Deborah Ferguson (D-West Memphis) spoke against the legislation, alleging that it was being pushed by an “outside lobbying group” that decided “it’s no longer favorable to discriminate against blacks and gays anymore, so they picked transgenders for this session.”
Rumba Yambu, the founder of the Arkansas-based transgender community organization Intransitive, pointed out that the bill would ban transition-related care for minors, even in cases where their decision is being supported by their parents or guardians.
“I want to remind you that the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized time and time again, parents’ constitutional right to care, custody and control of their children. Arkansas even has vaccine exemptions for religious and philosophical reasons. So you need to think about that in the way that this bill is worded,” Yambu told lawmakers.
Despite 15 members of the public speaking against the legislation, compared to only four in favorl, the committee voted 13-4 to move the bill out of committee, setting it up for a vote by the full House of Representatives.
Following the committee hearing, Intransitive posted a statement to its Facebook page.
“It’s with great heartache we share that HB 1570 passed the committee today. It bans all Trans care and referrals to anyone under 18 regardless of parental consent,” the post reads. “…Regardless of local parents, experts and Trans people testifying, some Arkansas legislators laughed as they voted for the bill. It takes an incredible amount of hate and disregard for human life to target Trans children in this way.”
Intransitive also urged parents, lawyers, members of the transgender community, doctors, religious leaders, and business owners to do their part and come out in opposition to the bill, lest it be passed by the House and Senate and ultimately signed into law.
The Trevor Project, the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ youth, condemned the committee’s decision to pass the bill, noting that over the past year, the organization has supported over 850 “crisis contacts,” or LGBTQ youth in desperate need of support who were seriously considering self-harm, from Arkansas alone. The organization’s 2020 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health found that more than half of transgender or nonbinary youth have seriously considered suicide in the past year, compared to 40% of all LGBTQ youth respondents.
“Referring to best-practice medical care as ‘experimentation’ is devoid of logic and reality — and denying it would jeopardize young lives in Arkansas. The science, research, and academic communities agree that gender-affirming care produces positive mental health outcomes and reduces suicide risk,” Sam Brinton, the vice president of advocacy and government affairs for The Trevor Project, said in a statement.
“When you actually take the time to listen to transgender and nonbinary youth, as The Trevor Project’s crisis counselors do every day, it becomes abundantly clear how essential affirmative care is to their health and well-being,” Brinton added. “Medical professionals should decide what care is in the best interest of a patient, not partisan politicians.”
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