Arkansas became the first US state to outlaw such forms of care for transgender children on Tuesday, overriding Governor Asa Hutchinson’s veto and triggering litigation from civil rights advocates vowing to stop it.
Any healthcare provider who gives puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones, or gender-affirming surgery to minors risks losing their medical license, as well as facing litigation from patients who later regret their decisions.
It’s one of a slew of bills being debated around the country: at least 16 other states are considering similar measures, which transgender activists have slammed, claiming that depriving teens of much-needed treatment would inevitably lead to more suicides.
Hutchinson, a Republican, vetoed the bill on Monday after hearing from pediatricians, social workers, and parents of transgender children who said it would hurt a population already vulnerable to depression and suicide. The override, which only required a simple majority, was easily approved by both Republican-controlled houses, with the state House voting 72-25 in favor and the Senate voting 25-8 in favor.
Several medical and child protection organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, were against the prohibition.
This is a disgusting transphobic attack. Restricting care from trans kids won't change who they are — it will just cruelly deny them the right to live freely.— Rep. Pramila Jayapal (@RepJayapal) April 6, 2021
To every trans kid in Arkansas and across America: I see you and I will fight for you like I fight for my own trans kid. https://t.co/FQGoxN4KK2
“This legislation perpetuates the very things we know are harmful to trans youth,” Dr Robert Garofalo, division head of adolescent and young adult medicine at Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago, told reporters on a news conference call held by the Human Rights Campaign. “They’re not just anti-trans. They’re anti-science. They’re anti-public health.”
The bill’s sponsor rejected medical associations’ objections, comparing the ban to other restrictions imposed by the state on minors, such as banning them from drinking.
“They need to get to be 18 before they make those decisions,” Republican Representative Robin Lundstrum said.
The Family Council, a conservative organization that supported the bill, thanked lawmakers for passing “historic legislation.”
Hutchinson said the bill goes too far in interfering with parents and doctors, and that it would halt therapy for transgender children who are already receiving it. He said he would have signed the bill if it had only addressed gender confirming surgery, which is currently prohibited in the state for minors.
“I do hope my veto will cause my Republican colleagues across the country to resist the temptation to put the state in the middle of every decision made by parents and health care professionals,” Hutchinson said in a statement after the vote.
At the earliest, the legislation will go into force in late July. Before then, the American Civil Liberties Union announced it would file a lawsuit against the bill.
“This is a sad day for Arkansas, but this fight is not over — and we’re in it for the long haul,” Holly Dickson, ACLU of Arkansas’ executive director, said in a statement.
The ban was enforced during a year in which transgender-related bills passed with ease in Arkansas and other states.
Hutchinson recently signed legislation prohibiting transgender women and girls from playing on teams that reflect their gender identity, a ban that was also enforced this year in Tennessee and Mississippi.
Hutchinson has also recently signed legislation allowing physicians to refuse to treat a patient due to moral or religious objections.
Another bill advanced by a House committee earlier Tuesday would prohibit schools from forcing teachers to use students’ chosen pronouns or titles when addressing them.
More than 100 bills targeted at the transgender community have been filed in statehouses throughout the country, according to the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBTQ rights organization. At least 20 states have proposed similar treatment bans.
On Tuesday, the foundation founded by the family of Walmart founder Sam Walton of Bentonville, Arkansas, expressed concern about recent state legislation targeting LGBTQ people.
“This trend is harmful and sends the wrong message to those willing to invest in or visit our state,” Tom Walton with the Walton Family Foundation said in a statement released before the override vote.
One opponent of the bill compared it to anti-integration bills passed by the Arkansas Legislature in 1958 in response to the desegregation of Little Rock Central High School the previous year.
“What I see, this bill, is the most powerful again bullying the most vulnerable people in our state,” Democratic Senator Clarke Tucker said before the vote.