Arkansas Governor Vetoes Bill Banning Gender-Affirming Care for Trans Youth

Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson has vetoed a bill that would ban gender-affirming care for trans youth.
REUTERS/Gary Cameron

Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson has vetoed a bill that would ban gender-affirming care for trans youth.

During a press conference on April 5, the Republican governor denounced the “Save Adolescents from Experimentation Act,” or the SAFE Act, which would impose restrictions and completely demolish transition-related medical care for transgender minors. The governor’s decision to ax the discriminatory legislation came nearly a week after the Arkansas state Senate passed the bill, which sparked outrage among LGBTQ advocates across the nation.

The governor worried about the lasting effects of the legislation on trans youth.

“This is a government overreach,” Hutchinson said during a news conference. “You are starting to let lawmakers interfere with health care and set a standard for legislation overriding health care. The state should not presume to jump into every ethical health decision.”

Hutchinson acknowledged concerns that the State Legislature could move to override his veto, though he said he is “hopeful” that he will make GOP lawmakers re-evaluate the issue. However, he made it clear that he is not slamming the door on the possibility of some different form of legislation along the same lines, saying he hopes state legislators “come up with a more restrained approach that allows a thoughtful study of the science and ethics surrounding the issue before acting.”

HB1570, or the SAFE Act, would prohibit doctors from providing gender transition-related medical care, including prescribing hormones to trans youth. Furthermore, it would also allow health insurance companies to avoid covering individuals of any age who seek to receive gender-affirming care, according to the ACLU.

In a statement, the ACLU of Arkansas praised the governor’s rejection of the bill, which nearly upended and disrupted the lives of trans people in the state.

“This veto belongs to the thousands of Arkansans who spoke out against this discriminatory bill, especially the young people, parents, and pediatricians who never stopped fighting this anti-trans attack,” Holly Dickson, ACLU of Arkansas executive director, said in a written statement. “Medical decisions should be left up to trans youth, their parents, and their doctor — not politicians or the government.”

The governor’s about-face on the legislation comes just a week after he signed a bill banning transgender women and girls and some non-binary people from participating in school and college sports. At the press conference, the governor continued to use transphobic rhetoric to support that bill’s passage.

Hutchinson previously signed a bill that would allow doctors to refuse to treat LGBTQ patients based on their religious beliefs, though he said he views those bills as “totally independent, separate measures” than the latest legislative effort to remove healthcare rights from trans youth. The governor also described the legislation he vetoed as “well-intentioned, but off course.”

Regardless, advocates are sighing relief — at least for the moment — and expressing hope that other states follow suit.

“Bills like Arkansas’ House Bill 1570 are rooted in animus and ignorance about what it means to be transgender,” Kevin Jennings, the CEO of Lambda Legal, an LGBTQ civil rights organization, said in a written statement. “They disregard medical science, standards of treatment for transgender youth, and basic human dignity.”

He added, “We hope that other states considering similar dangerous bills heed Governor Hutchinson’s example and reject wholeheartedly any attempt to single out and hurt transgender children.”

Advocates said they are prepared to fight the policy all the way through.

“Arkansas legislators should recognize the work Governor Hutchinson put into this decision and follow his lead by allowing this veto to stand,” Dickson said. “We remain committed to stopping this law from harming the people of this state, including going to court if that is what legislators force these families to do to protect their children.”

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