Arkansas governor vetoes transgender youth treatment ban

Mid-South

FILE – In this March 23, 2020 file photo, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, right, speaks during a news conference in Little Rock, Ark. Gov. Hutchinson on Thursday, March 25, 2021 signed a law banning transgender women and girls from competing in school sports teams consistent with their gender identity. (Staton Breidenthal/The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette via AP)

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (NewsNation Now) — Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Monday vetoed legislation that would have made his state the first to ban gender confirming treatments or surgery for transgender youth.

The Republican governor rejected legislation that would have prohibited 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.

During a press conference, Hutchinson called HB1570, titled “The SAFE Act” by sponsors, a “vast government overreach” by the state legislature.

Starting by noting that he recognized that Arkansas was at the center of the “cultural war in America,” the governor called the bill “well-intended” but said it was “off-course.”

The Republican Legislature could still enact the measure, since it only takes a simple majority to override a governor’s veto in Arkansas.

Sponsors of the measure did not say when they planned to seek an override or whether they had enough votes secured to enact the measure despite Hutchinson’s objection.

“These children need to be protected,” Republican Rep. Robin Lundstrum told reporters.

Hutchinson’s veto follows 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.

“If (the bill) 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,” Hutchinson said at a news conference.

Noting that while only a small group of young people face gender dysphoria, the governor said they still deserve to have the “guiding hand” of their parents and health care workers directing their courses of treatment.

He said he would have signed if it had just focused on gender confirming surgery, which currently isn’t performed on minors in the state. He noted it wouldn’t have exempted youth who are already undergoing treatment.

“The bill is over broad, extreme and does not grandfather those young people who are currently under hormone treatment,” he said “In other words, the young people who are currently under a doctor’s care will be without treatment when this law goes into effect.”

It was the latest measure targeting transgender people that easily advanced in the Arkansas Legislature and other states this year. ArkansasMississippi and Tennessee’s governors have signed laws banning transgender girls and women from competing on school sports teams consistent with the gender identity.

Hutchinson recently signed a measure allowing doctors to refuse to treat someone because of moral or religious objections, a law that opponents have said could be used to turn away LGBTQ patients.

NewsNation affiliate KARK and The Associated Press contributed to this report

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