Arkansas Governor Vetoes Ban on Youth Gender Reassignment Procedures

April 5, 2021 Updated: April 5, 2021

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Monday vetoed a bill that sought to ban gender reassignment surgeries and hormone treatments for children under the age of 18.

Hutchinson said he believed the bill, House Bill 1570, is overly broad and could set a new standard of government interference into medical care and relationships between medical providers, youths, and their parents. The governor said he was also worried that the measure could lead to detrimental consequences for some youths, such as suicidal tendencies and drug use, and also took issue over the lack of accommodation for youths who are currently undergoing transition treatments.

“If House Bill 1570 simply prohibited gender reassignment surgeries, then I would sign the bill. But the bill is overbroad, extreme, and does not grandfather those young people who are currently under hormone treatment,” Hutchinson told reporters at a news conference on Monday.

The governor added that he believes the state legislature was well-intentioned in passing the bill and acknowledged that his veto could be overridden by the legislators, who passed the bill with an overwhelming majority. He said he has already shared his thoughts with the sponsors of the bill and will wait to see their next moves.

HB 1570, also known as the Arkansas SAFE (Save Adolescents From Experimentation) Act, prohibits physicians and healthcare professionals from providing gender transition procedures to people under 18 years old, or referring the minors to other healthcare professionals for the procedures.

Medical providers who violate the law could face disciplinary actions from the appropriate licensing entity or disciplinary review board.

According to state legislators, the bill would seek to protect children with gender dysphoria from the long-term complications and irreversible consequences of gender reassignment surgery and other risks associated with non-surgical transition treatments.

“It is of grave concern to the General Assembly that the medical community is allowing individuals who experience distress at identifying with their biological sex to be subjects of irreversible and drastic nongenital gender reassignment surgery and irreversible, permanently sterilizing genital gender reassignment surgery, despite the lack of studies showing that the benefits of such extreme interventions outweigh the risks,” the preamble of the bill read.

Hutchinson said the legislators have several options including overriding the veto, accepting his veto, or to re-do the legislation.

“That is their prerogative,” he said.

If the legislators decide to override Hutchinson’s veto, Arkansas would be the first state to enact such a bill. Other states are also considering similar measures.

The bill, however, is met with intense opposition from progressive civil rights advocacy groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which has expressed an intention to challenge the bill if enacted.

Arkansas recently drew national attention after enacting two other bills, which have received push-back from progressive groups. One of the bills aimed to protect women’s sport, while the other sought to protect medical provider’s right to exercise their conscience.

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