Arkansas lawmakers override veto, make it illegal for trans youth to get gender confirming treatment

Arkansas lawmakers on Tuesday made the state the first to ban gender confirming treatments and surgery for transgender youth, enacting the prohibition over the governor's objections.

Governor had vetoed the ban after pleas from pediatricians, social workers and parents of transgender kids

Arkansas lawmakers voted Tuesday to override a veto by Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, seen here in July 2020, making the state the first to ban gender confirming treatments or surgery for transgender youth. (Staci Vandagriff/The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette via The Associated Press)

Arkansas lawmakers on Tuesday made the state the first to ban gender confirming treatments and surgery for transgender youth, enacting the prohibition over the governor's objections.

The Republican-controlled house and senate voted to override Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson's veto of the measure, which prohibits doctors from providing gender confirming hormone treatment, puberty blockers or surgery to anyone under 18 years old, or from referring them to other providers for the treatment.

Opponents of the measure have vowed to sue to block the ban before it takes effect this summer.

Hutchinson vetoed the bill following pleas from pediatricians, social workers and the parents of transgender youth who said the measure would harm a community already at risk for depression and suicide.

Ban opposed by medical groups

The ban was opposed by several medical and child welfare groups, including the American Academy of Pediatrics.

"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 measure's sponsor referred to the procedures as experimentation and compared the restriction to other limits the state places on minors.

"They need to get to be 18 before they make those decisions," Republican Rep. Robin Lundstrum said.

Legal challenges expected

Hutchinson said the measure went too far in interfering with parents and physicians, and noted that it will cut off care for transgender youth already receiving treatment.

He said he would have signed the bill if it had focused only on gender confirming surgery, which currently isn't performed on minors in the state.

"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.

People rally in support of transgender rights at the Alabama state house in Montgomery on March 2, 2021. Several U.S. states have passed bills or are working to limit the rights of transgender youth. (Jake Crandall//The Montgomery Advertiser via The Associated Press)

The law will take effect in late July at the earliest. The American Civil Liberties Union said it planned to challenge the measure before then. 

"This is a sad day for Arkansas, but this fight is not over — and we're in it for the long haul," Holly Dickson, executive director of the ACLU of Arkansas, said in a statement.

The override, which needed only a simple majority, passed easily in both chambers, with the house voting 72-25 in favour and the senate 25-8. 

Other legislation affecting trans youth signed, planned

Hutchinson recently signed legislation banning transgender women and girls from competing on teams consistent with their gender identity, a prohibition that also has been enacted in Tennessee and Mississippi this year.

He also recently signed legislation that allows doctors to refuse to treat someone because of moral or religious objections.

And the legislature isn't showing signs of letting up.

Another bill advanced by an Arkansas House committee earlier Tuesday would prevent schools from requiring teachers to refer to students by their preferred pronouns or titles.

The Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest LGBTQ rights group, said more than 100 bills have been filed in statehouses around the country targeting the transgender community. Similar treatment bans have been proposed in at least 20 states. 

Walton Family Foundation raises concerns

The Walton Family Foundation, a charitable foundation established by the family of Walmart's Bentonville, Ark.-based founder, Sam Walton, raised concerns Tuesday about the recent measures targeting LGBTQ people.

"This trend is harmful and sends the wrong message to those willing to invest in or visit our state," Tom Walton, a board member with the foundation, said in a statement released before the override vote.

One lawmaker opposed to the measure compared it to the anti-integration bills Arkansas's legislature passed in 1958 in opposition to the previous year's desegregation of Little Rock Central High School.

"What I see, this bill, is the most powerful again bullying the most vulnerable people in our state," Democratic Sen. Clarke Tucker said before the vote.