Arkansas may soon be the first state to ban gender-affirming health care for minors.
The state’s Senate approved a bill to this effect Monday, and the House of Representatives has already passed it, the Arkansas Times reports. Now it goes to Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson for his signature or veto. He has not said what his action will be, but he’s recently signed two other anti-LGBTQ+ bills into law.
House Bill 1570 would bar doctors and other health care workers from not only performing gender-confirmation surgeries on people under 18 but from prescribing hormones or puberty-blocking drugs for them. Such surgeries are not usually performed on minors anyway, while hormones and puberty blockers have been shown to have a positive effect on young transgender people. The legislation would also ban referrals for such care and would allow private insurers to refuse to cover gender-affirming care for people of any age.
“The evidence is clear: Gender-affirming care produces positive mental health outcomes and reduces suicide risk,” said a statement released by Sam Brinton, vice president of advocacy and government affairs at the Trevor Project, which provides assistance to LGBTQ+ youth in crisis. “That’s why it’s considered best-practice, embraced by doctors across the country, and endorsed by every major medical association. 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.”
The American Civil Liberties Union also denounced the legislation. “Medical decisions belong to trans youth, their parents, and their doctor — not the government,” said a statement from Holly Dickson, ACLU of Arkansas executive director. “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?
“By passing this cruel and discriminatory legislation, Arkansas legislators ignored the pleas of parents, doctors, and trans young people themselves. Make no mistake: Denying trans people health care because of who they are is wrong and illegal, and we’ll be ready to take this fight to court if this bill becomes law. But it doesn’t have to come to that. The whole country is watching whether Arkansas will continue this discriminatory race to the bottom that has cost other states millions. House Bill 1570 is the codification of cruelty, and for the well-being of all Arkansans, Governor Hutchinson should veto this cruel and harmful bill the moment it reaches his desk. If he doesn’t, we will see the state in court.”
Similar bills are pending in several other states, part of a rash of anti-trans and more broadly anti-LGBTQ+ legislation introduced around the nation. A total of 174 anti-LGBTQ+ bills have been introduced, with a record 95 of the bills aimed specifically at trans people, according to the Human Rights Campaign. Of the anti-trans bills, about half seek to bar trans athletes from the school sports teams designated for their gender identity, while many others seek to keep trans minors from receiving gender-affirming medical care. A few states considered the latter type of bill last year, but none passed one.
So far this year, trans-exclusionary sports bills have been signed into law in Arkansas, Tennessee, and Mississippi. In South Dakota, both houses of the legislature passed such a bill and Gov. Kristi Noem at first said she’d sign it, then sent it back to lawmakers for changes, as she wanted colleges exempted. Legislators have refused to make this change, so the bill is dead for now but could be revived, as Noem has floated the possibility of a special session, the HRC reports. Last year Idaho enacted such a law, but it has been blocked by a federal judge while a court challenge proceeds.
The other anti-LGBTQ+ bill signed by Hutchinson in Arkansas would allow health care providers to opt out of procedures to which they have religious or moral objections. This could lead to discrimination against LGBTQ+ people, women, members of minority faiths, and others, activists say.
Earlier Monday, activists and health care professionals held a video press conference to urge the Arkansas Senate to reject HB 1570 and Hutchinson to veto it if the Senate did pass it.
“This is discrimination by legislation, and transgender children and all children deserve better,” Dr. Lee Savio Beers, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said during the press conference, according to the Times.
“Can we just remember these are human beings?” actress and activist Laverne Cox said of trans youth. She called the legislation “insane and ridiculous.”
Chase Strangio, deputy director for transgender justice at the ACLU, mentioned that if HB 1570 becomes law, trans youth could be driven to seeking hormones from underground providers. “We will find a way to care for them … but this is incredibly dangerous from a medical perspective,” he said.