Arkansas governor blocks cruel bill banning healthcare for trans kids, condemning ‘culture war’ on trans rights

Așa Hutchinson trans healthcare Arkansas

Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson has vetoed a cruel bill banning healthcare for trans youth, calling it “vast government overreach”.

House Bill 1570 passed through the Arkansas House of Representatives and the Senate in March. If the bill becomes law, it will criminalise medical professionals who offer gender affirming treatments such as puberty blockers and hormone therapy to transgender minors.

After passing through the Senate, the bill went to Hutchinson to be signed into law – but the governor opted to veto it, saying it could cause “significant harm” to trans youth.

Speaking to reporters on Monday (5 April), Hutchinson said the law is part of a “cultural war in America”.

“I don’t shy away from a battle when it is necessary and defensible, but the most recent action of the general assembly, while well intended, is off course, and I must veto the bill,” Hutchinson said.

The governor said the bill would create a new standard of “legislative interference with physicians and parents as they deal with some of the most complex and sensitive matters involving young people.”

While in some instances the state must act to protect life, the state should not presume to jump into the middle of every medical, human and ethical issue.

He said: “It is undisputed that the population of minors who struggle with gender incongruity or gender dysphoria is an extreme minority, but while they are a minority they deserve the guiding hand of their parents and of the healthcare professionals that their family has chosen.

“House Bill 1570 would put the state as the definitive oracle of medical care overriding parents, patients and healthcare experts. While in some instances the state must act to protect life, the state should not presume to jump into the middle of every medical, human and ethical issue. This would be, and is, a vast government overreach.”

Hutchinson noted that the bill was staunchly opposed by leading medical associations who said it could cause “significant harm” to trans youth suffering from suicidal ideation.

The governor said he would sign the bill if it simply prohibited gender affirmation surgeries for under-18s, but noted that those practices are not currently offered to minors in Arkansas.

Closing his address, Hutchinson noted that the bill, if passed in its current form, will leave trans youth currently under a doctor’s care “without treatment” – meaning they could suddenly have their hormones ceased. This would push many families to go to the black market, he said.

“This is not the right path to put them on.”

Arkansas general assembly could override Asa Hutchinson’s veto of trans healthcare bill

Hutchinson’s shock intervention may not be the end of the road for House Bill 1570 – as the governor pointed out in his address, the general assembly can override his veto with a simple majority.

That majority would likely be easily won, as both the House of Representative and the Senate voted overwhelmingly in favour of passing the bill in March, signalling broad political support for the measure.

Hutchinson said he is “hopeful” his intervention will push Republican lawmakers to “think through the issue again” and come up with “a more restrained” bill.

The governor’s veto was welcomed by the Trevor Project, an LGBT+ suicide prevention organisation.

“This is a huge victory for the trans and non-binary 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,” said Sam Brinton, vice president of advocacy and government affairs at the Trevor Project.

“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. While they’re at it, we’d also urge Arkansas to reconsider its misguided ban on trans student-athletes.”

House Bill 1570 is part of a “legislative boom” that has taken place across the first three months of 2021, which has seen more than 60 bills introduced in 25 state legislatures targeting transgender youth.

In March, Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson signed into a law a ban on trans women and girls competing in women’s sports, while Mississippi governor Tate Reeves signed a similar bill just weeks before.