Arkansas Overrides Veto of Anti-Transgender Law
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Arkansas Legislature Overrides Governor’s Veto, Bans Transition Procedures for Transgender Youths

HB1570’s Lead Sponsor Rep. Robin Lundstrum

The Republican controlled legislature in Arkansas on Tuesday voted to override Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s veto to pass HB1570, also known as the Arkansas Save Adolescents from Experimentation Act (SAFE Act), making it the first state to ban gender-affirming medications or procedures for transgender minors.

Under the measure, physicians and other healthcare professionals are legally prohibited from performing any gender transition procedures or providing any drug treatments that include hormone therapy or puberty blockers to persons under the age of 18. Doctors are also barred from referring minor patients to other healthcare providers for such treatments.

Hutchinson on Monday vetoed the bill, which initially passed largely along party lines in both the House (with a vote of 70-22) and the Senate (with a vote of 28-7), calling it “overbroad” and “extreme.”

“I was told this week that the nation is looking at Arkansas because I have on my desk another bill passed by the General Assembly that is a product of the cultural war in America,” Hutchinson said when announcing that he was vetoing the bill. “I don’t shy away from the battle when it is necessary and defensible, but the most recent action of the General Assembly, while well intended, is off course.”

Tuesday’s vote did not result in much change, with the veto-override passing 71-24 in the House and 25-8 in the Senate. The text of the bill claims the justification for the measure is Arkansas’s “compelling government interest in protecting the health and safety of its citizens, especially vulnerable children.”

“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 bill states. “The risks of gender transition procedures far outweigh any benefit at this stage of clinical study on these procedures.”

The earliest the law can take effect is mid-summer, but opponents of the measure have already vowed to file legal challenges before that happens, including the American Civil Liberties Union, which released a statement Tuesday afternoon saying the organization was “preparing litigation as we speak.”

“This decision ignores dozens of local doctors, national medical experts, as well as trans youth and their parents. Gender-affirming care is life-saving care. Banning it will have devastating — and in some cases, deadly consequences,” the group wrote in a statement. “This bill will drive families, doctors and businesses out of the state, and sends a terrible and heartbreaking message to transgender people who are watching in fear.”

Chase Strangio, the deputy director for transgender justice with the ACLU’s LGBTQ & HIV Project, said the veto-override came despite pushback from doctors.

“Doctors informed Arkansas lawmakers they would each be receiving a call when trans kids were hurt or died as a result of HB1570,” Strangio said. “Today the Arkansas House has voted to override Gov. Hutchinson’s veto anyway. Such a painful disgrace. Senate vote to come.”

[image via YouTube screengrab]

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.