Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) has vetoed legislation that would have criminalized health care for transgender youth.
Hutchinson blocked the bill, which was pushed by Republican lawmakers, calling it “well-intended” but arguing that it would interfere in the decision-making process between physicians and parents “as they deal with some of the most complex and sensitive matters involving young people.”
The so-called “Arkansas Save Adolescents From Experimentation Act” would have threatened doctors with disciplinary action or the loss of their license if they recommend puberty blockers, hormones, or surgery to transgender-identifying youth.
Hutchinson said the bill “would be and is a vast government overreach” and called it “a product of the cultural war in America,” CNN reports.
However, he noted that the Republican-controlled legislature “will likely override” his veto, given that would only require a simple majority.
“I am hopeful, though, that my action will cause conservative Republican legislators to think through the issue again,” he said, “and hopefully come up with a more restrained approach that allows a thoughtful study of the science and ethics surrounding the issue before acting.”
In addition to effectively criminalizing health care for trans youth, the legislation would also prohibit Medicare and Medicaid from being used to cover the costs of transition-related care, prevent health insurance from covering treatments for trans youth under the age of 18, and permit insurers to refuse coverage for gender-confirmation procedures and treatments.
Hutchinson’s veto comes as a surprise, given he was widely expected to sign the bill after it was passed by lawmakers in the state last month.
His argument that the bill was “vast government overreach” and a product of a “culture war” also flies in the face of Hutchinson last month signing legislation banning transgender student athletes from competing in extracurricular sports based on their gender identity — part of a nationwide trend of similar bans being introduced and passed by Republicans in various state.
Speaking to reporters, Hutchinson said that he vetoed the bill after listening to transgender Arkansans and the advice of doctors and medical associations. He also noted that “the nation is looking at Arkansas.”
“The bill is overbroad, extreme and does not grandfather those young people who are currently under hormone treatment,” Hutchinson said. “The young people who are currently under a doctor’s care will be without treatment when this law goes into effect.
“That means they will be looking to the black market or go out of state…to find the treatment that they want and need. This is not the right path to put them on,” he added.
Chase Strangio, deputy director for transgender justice at the American Civil Liberties Union, thanked Hutchinson for his veto.
Strangio, who previously called the bill the “single most extreme anti-trans law to ever pass through a state legislature,” tweeted that the veto was a “powerful rebuke of this nightmare legislation.”
Strangio noted that a simple majority can overrule the veto, urging people to “keep up the pressure” to ensure it doesn’t happen.
“Let this BILL DIE, Arkansas,” he wrote. “It is cruel. You got two anti-trans laws already signed. Let these kids live.”
Strangio added: “Thank you, @AsaHutchinson. You did the right thing here.”
The Human Rights Campaign noted that, had Hutchinson signed the bill, it would have been the first of its kind in the U.S. to criminalize transgender health care.
“This unprecedented bill, which would have denied medically-necessary and potentially life-saving gender-affirming care to transgender children was too extreme, even for Governor Asa Hutchinson,” Alphonso David, president of HRC, said in a statement. “Even after signing other anti-LGBTQ and anti-transgender bills into law, Governor Hutchinson balked — he heard from a chorus of supporters of equality to veto this bill which was unpopular among Republicans, Independents, and Democrats alike.”
David continued: “This ought to be a warning to any governor across the country considering bills like HB 1570. The repercussions were too much for Arkansas, and they will be just as severe for any state weighing this type of legislation.”
The Trevor Project, which provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention to LGBTQ youth, called Hutchinson’s veto 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 for The Trevor Project, said in a statement.
“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,” Brinton continued. “While they’re at it, we’d also urge Arkansas to reconsider its misguided ban on trans student-athletes.”
Dr. Jerrica Kirkley, MD, co-founder and Chief Medical Officer of Plume, a telehealth service that connects trans people with gender-affirming hormones, said she was “incredibly relieved to see this dangerous bill stopped in its tracks.”
“Research has shown time and again that gender-affirming health care can be life-saving for transgender people experiencing depression or considering suicide, and protecting young people’s access to this care is critical for protecting their well-being and the well-being of all of our communities,” Kirkley, who is transgender, said in a statement. “Unfortunately, financial barriers, stigma, red tape and a lack of expert providers still make gender-affirming health care extremely difficult to access for many in Arkansas and across the country, especially in rural areas.
Kirkley urged lawmakers who “care about the health and well-being of our young people” to “not only block dangerous anti-transgender bills, they must go further and actively work to reduce barriers and improve access for all.”
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