Arkansas legislators voted on Tuesday to pass a bill that will ban transgender minors from receiving gender-confirming treatments within the state, overcoming the governor’s veto. The Arkansas bill is the first such law to pass in the US.
House Bill 1570, otherwise known as the Save Adolescents from Experimentation (SAFE) Act, prevents Arkansas physicians from providing puberty blockers and also prohibits them from referring minor patients to other providers. The bill was vetoed on Monday by Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson.
HB 1570 was proposed by state representative Robin Lundstrum, who has previously stated that trans and nonbinary identities are a “choice.” Although some conservative groups have been outspokenly supportive of the passage of the legislation, other national organizations have denounced the passing of the bill, including the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics. In 2018, the AAP issued a policy statement reflecting their position that they “[strive] to improve health care access and [to] eliminate disparities for children and teenagers who identify as [LGBTQ],” and that “despite some advances in public awareness and legal protections, youth who identify as LGBTQ continue to face disparities that stem from multiple sources, including inequitable laws and policies, societal discrimination, and a lack of access to quality health care, including mental health care.”
Some advocates were surprised to learn of Hutchinson’s veto of HB 1570, for the governor recently signed into law a bill prohibiting transgender girls from competing in women’s sports, as well as a bill permitting physicians to refuse treatment on religious or ethical grounds. HB 1570, according to Hutchinson, was nevertheless “a step too far.”
In a public statement outlining the reasons for his veto, Hutchinson said:
I was told this week that the nation is looking at Arkansas because I have on my desk another bill on my desk passed by the general assembly that is a product of the cultural war in America. I don’t shy away from the 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 HB 1570. … [I]f HB 1570 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. … [This bill] 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 a vast governmental overreach.
On its website, the American Civil Liberties Union announced that it will challenge the Arkansas law.