Legislature overrides Hutchinson's veto of bill targeting gender reassignment

Max Bryan
Fort Smith Times Record
The Arkansas House of Representatives voted 72-25 and the Senate voted 25-8 Tuesday to override Gov. Asa Hutchinson's veto of a bill that bans transitional surgeries and hormone supplements for anyone under 18 in the state and lets private insurers refuse gender-affirming care. The bill does not have a provision for youth currently transitioning.

The Arkansas Legislature has overridden Gov. Asa Hutchinson's veto of House Bill 1570.

The House voted 72-25 and the Senate voted 25-8 Tuesday to override the veto of the bill, which would ban transitional surgeries and hormone supplements for anyone under 18 in the state and let private insurers refuse gender-affirming care. The bill does not have a provision for youth currently transitioning.

The bill will take effect later this summer.

The override follows Hutchinson saying he fully expected the Legislature to act in this way after signing the veto Monday. In his reasoning, Hutchinson especially stressed how the bill doesn't have provisions for youth currently transitioning and said it would be legislative interference with medical practice.

He was immediately opposed by District 87 state Rep. Robin Lundstrum, R-Elm Springs, the lead sponsor of the bill.

"(The bill) simply protects minors from being preyed upon and pressured into making adult decisions before they are ready," Lundstrum said in a statement. "Those who claim otherwise are not being honest, and either haven't read the bill or are placing fundraising above the best interest of children."

The bill was publicly opposed by the American Medical Association and American Psychological Association. Hutchinson said Arkansas' leading medical organizations opposed the bill as well.

Hutchinson said he listened to healthcare providers at Arkansas Children's Hospital and transgender people as well as people on the other side of the issue while coming to his decision. He also received "hundreds, if not thousands" of emails about the bill.

“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," Hutchinson said, calling the bill "overbroad" and "extreme."

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson speaks Monday at a news conference in the governor's mansion about his decision to veto House Bill 1570.

In her response to the veto, Lundstrum cited a 2011 study from Sweden that states people who underwent gender reassignment surgery suffered greater physical and mental health problems and were 19 times more likely to die by suicide than the general population. However, the study also states reassignment alleviates gender dysphoria and suggested improved psychiatric and medical care after surgery.

She and District 13 state Sen. Alan Clark, R-Lonsdale, the primary Senate sponsor, both claim more than 80% of adults who experience gender dysphoria eventually identify how they were assigned at birth. A variety of studies on this topic give figures as low as 63% upward.

Clark and Lundstrum both argued counseling is not prohibited in the bill.

"Gender incongruity and gender dysphoria are real and serious," Lundstrum's statement reads. "Families and children deserve compassion and care. Part of providing compassion and care is making sure children don't harm themselves out of ignorance."

Opponents of the bill have argued access to medical care lowers suicide rates among trans people. A 2020 study by the journal Pediatrics states trans youth's access to puberty blockers, which will be banned for under-18 youth in Arkansas, is directly related to lower suicide rates among trans adults.

Others have argued the bill goes against President Joe Biden's Jan. 20 executive order that combats discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation. Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge has publicly stated she will challenge executive orders believed to be unconstitutional.

Conversely, Hutchinson argued his veto was "constitutionally" the right way to make his position known as Arkansas' governor.

"I looked at this bill as a matter of, where do I want my voice to be? What is my position on this, and what should reflect the position of Arkansas on it, and how can I express the right balance between what people might perceive as their values versus the broader values that might be in different families and different communities, and the struggle that young people have?" Hutchinson said at a Monday news conference.

Arkansas is one of at least 20 states with bills targeting trans people this legislative session. Hutchinson has already signed Senate Bill 354, which bans transgender girls from playing women's sports at Arkansas schools, and Senate Bill 289, which allows medical professionals to conscientiously object to providing their services in non-emergency situations.

Hutchinson said he looked at all three bills separately when deciding whether to sign or veto.

The American Civil Liberties Union said it is preparing litigation against the SAFE Act.

"Attempting to block trans youth from the care they need simply because of who they are is not only wrong, it’s also illegal, and we will be filing a lawsuit to challenge this law in court," a Tuesday statement from the ACLU reads. "We are hearing from concerned families all over the state who are afraid about the impact of this bill and others like it. We are committed to doing all we can to support these families and ensure they know how to continue to fight for their rights and get the care and resources they need."

"We have just gotten warmed up to fight this until it is shut down completely," said Joanna Brandt, 48, of Greenwood, the mother of a 15-year-old trans boy.