State Lawmakers in Arkansas Vote to Ban Gender-Affirming Care for Trans Youth

The Arkansas State Capitol building in Little Rock.
Wikimedia Commons/Daniel Schwen

State senators in Arkansas passed a bill on March 29 banning gender-affirming medical care for trans youth, marking the first such bill to clear both chambers in any state.

The legislation, which already cleared the state’s House of Representatives by an overwhelming 70-22 margin, now heads to Governor Asa Hutchinson, who can either sign or veto the bill before next week.

Under HB1570, or the “Save Adolescents from Experimentation Act,” doctors are prohibited from providing gender transition-related medical care, including prescribing hormones to trans youth. Furthermore, it also allows health insurance companies to avoid covering individuals of any age who seek to receive gender-affirming care, according to the ACLU. The bill’s text repeatedly mentions eliminating genital reconstructive surgeries on minors, although these procedures are not performed on children. Transgender youth who are already receiving gender-affirming care in Arkansas would no longer have access to it.

“Medical decisions belong to trans youth, their parents, and their doctor — not the government,” Holly Dickson, the executive director of ACLU of Arkansas, said in a written statement. “This bill flies in the face of common decency, basic human rights, and the advice of every major medical association – not to mention federal law. What could possibly be more cruel than trying to take away a child’s access to the care that could save their life?”

The bill’s lead sponsor in the lower house, Republican lawmaker Robin Lundstrum, introduced the legislation in February. Following the lower house’s passage of the bill earlier this month, the State Senate followed suit and approved it 28-7.

The bill marks the second anti-trans bill backed this year by the Arkansas State Legislature, which passed the so-called “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act” to prevent trans girls and some non-binary people from participating in school sports teams that correspond with their gender identity. Governor Hutchinson swiftly signed that bill into law just days before Tennessee Governor Bill Lee approved a similar bill prohibiting trans people from school sports.

This legislation is the latest in a string of transphobic bills across the nation. Mississippi became the first state in the US to approve an anti-trans sports bill this year after Idaho sought to enact a similar law last year, though Idaho’s legislation hit a snag when Chief US District Judge for Idaho David C. Nye subsequently blocked the bill.

Meanwhile, Alabama senators are still hearing arguments to block medical care for trans youth. Recently, legislators in South Dakota voted to kill an anti-trans sports bill backed by Governor Kristi Noem. Last year, South Dakota’s lower house voted 46-23 to pass a bill criminalizing doctors who provide gender-affirming care for trans youth, but it later died in a Senate committee.

Chase Strangio, deputy director for Trans Justice with the ACLU’s LGBTQ and HIV Project, said the Arkansas legislation targeting trans youth is “deadly” and he is urging others to take action against this legislation.

During an Arkansas Senate hearing on March 22, Dr. Michele Hutchison, a pediatric endocrinologist specializing in gender-affirming treatments in Little Rock, Arkansas, argued the bill is already harming the mental health of transgender youth.

“I’ve had multiple kids in our emergency room because of an attempted suicide,” Hutchison recalled. “Do you know how many phone calls I’ve had to field in the last week of children calling me saying, ‘Dr. Hutchison, if this happens, I’m going to kill myself.'”

The Trevor Project, an LGBTQ non-profit focused on suicide prevention, said the group had received more than 850 crisis calls in Arkansas within the last year.

“The evidence is clear: gender-affirming care produces positive mental health outcomes and reduces suicide risk,” Sam Brinton, the organization’s vice president of advocacy and government affairs, said in a statement to Gay City News. “That’s why it’s considered best-practice, embraced by doctors across the country, and endorsed by every major medical association.”

They added, “Governor Hutchinson should listen to the experts — and transgender young people in Arkansas — and veto this cruel bill. It’s a matter of life and death.”

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