Hutchinson vetoes bill banning youth gender reassignment, calling it 'overbroad, extreme'
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson has vetoed House Bill 1570, which would ban gender reassignment surgeries and hormone supplements for anyone under 18 in the state.
Labeled the Save Adolescents From Experimentation (SAFE) Act, the bill, which did not have a provision for youth who are currently transitioning, passed the Arkansas Senate by a vote of 28-7 March 29 and a house vote of 70-22 March 10.
AR District 87 state Rep. Robin Lundstrum, R-Elm Springs, the lead sponsor of the bill, urged the General Assembly to override the governor's veto. A simple majority of the legislature is needed to override the governor's veto in Arkansas.
While Hutchinson anticipates his veto will be overridden, he also hopes his action "will cause conservative Republican legislators to think through the issue again."
“The bill is overbroad, extreme, and does not grandfather those who are under hormone treatment," said Hutchinson at a Monday news conference at the governor's mansion.
Hutchinson also added that he believes the bill is legislative interference with medical care and family matters in the state.
The bill prohibits youth from receiving transitional or puberty-blocking hormones and surgery and lets private insurers refuse gender-affirming care. It stated the risks of gender transition procedures "far outweigh any benefit at this stage of clinical study" and lists medical risks of taking hormone supplements including blood clots and cancer.
The American Medical Association, American Psychological Association, and American Academy of Pediatrics publicly opposed the bill while it was in litigation. Hutchinson noted Arkansas' lead medical associations also opposed the bill.
The American Civil Liberties Union called the SAFE Act's restrictions on gender reassignment unprecedented in the United States. ACLU spokespersons said they plan to take legal action against the legislation if it was passed into law.
Hutchinson pointed out that gender reassignment surgeries are not currently performed in the state for anyone under 18. If the bill had simply banned these surgeries for youth in the state, he would have signed it, he said.
In her statement in response to the veto, Lundstrum cited a 2011 study from Sweden that stated people who underwent gender reassignment surgery suffered greater physical and mental health problems than the general population and were 19 times more likely to die by suicide. The study, however, concludes reassignment alleviates gender dysphoria and suggested "improved psychiatric and somatic care" after surgery.
District 13 state Sen. Alan Clark, R-Lonsdale, cited an American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry study that states 90% of young adults who experienced gender dysphoria eventually identified how they were assigned at birth. Clark, the primary Senate sponsor of the bill, encouraged youth suffering from gender dysphoria and their families to seek counseling and said his heart goes out to them.
Opponents of the bill argued access to medical care lowers suicide rates among trans people. Some believed the legislation contradicts President Joe Biden's Jan. 20 executive order meant to combat discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation.
“Both sides of this issue are well-meaning, looking after the good of our society in their own way," Hutchinson said.
Conclusively, Hutchinson listened to people from both sides of the issue before making his decision. This included healthcare providers and transgender people.
"I’ve met with Arkansas Children’s Hospital and how they handle these issues and why they set up a specialty on this. I talked to national leaders on this issue on both sides of the equation, along with receiving literally hundreds, if not thousands, of communications with individuals across the country and throughout Arkansas," he said.
The decision to veto comes after Hutchinson signing Senate Bill 354, which prohibits transgender girls from playing women's sports at Arkansas schools, and Senate Bill 289, which allows healthcare providers to conscientiously object to medical care in non-emergency situations.
Hutchinson does not intend to reverse his decisions on those bills.
“The first two measures were considered as anti-transgender, anti-gay, perhaps, and I think that is far from the truth. But you have to be concerned about the image that you are expressing from a state standpoint," he said. "I want people in Arkansas and across the country to understand whether you’re transgender or otherwise, that they’re loved, they’re appreciated, they make a part of our state, and we want to send the message of tolerance and diversity. I looked at (House Bill 1570) totally separately, though, and every bill stands on their own.”
In her statement, Lundstrum said she was disappointed "that the governor listened to the ACLU instead of the people of Arkansas" in his decision. She argued the passage of the legislation will ensure children don't harm themselves out of ignorance and prevent "a future where thousands of adults look in the mirror and ask themselves what happened to all the adults."
Her statement ran in contrast to Hutchinson, who said the government "should be restrained" under a conservative philosophy.
“I hope that my statement today, here in Arkansas but also nationally, just causes Republicans to think again about who we are, and how sometimes, we have to restrain government in areas that, in our own personal lives, we’ll say we’ll act in a particular way but we won’t make everyone else act the same way," he said.