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Arkansas Senate Passes Transgender Youth Medical Care Ban


A bill banning gender-affirming medical care for Arkansans under 18 is now one step away from becoming law.

The Senate on Monday passed House Bill 1570, which bans transgender youth from obtaining gender transition care, such as puberty blockers and hormone therapy. The bill, called the Save Adolescents from Experimentation, or SAFE, Act, would open physicians up to civil litigation and licensure penalties for providing gender-transition related therapies, including surgery, to minors.

Republican Sen. Alan Clark of Hot Springs, a co-sponsor of the bill, presented it on the Senate floor.

"This does not stop anyone at 18 from doing whatever they want to do, but it does protect children from making mistakes that they will have a very difficult time coming back from, although many do," Clark said.

The bill passed by a vote of 28 for and seven against. Sen. Larry Teague of Nashville was the lone Democrat to vote for the proposal, while Independent Sen. Jim Hendren of Gravette joined Democrats in opposing the bill. It now goes to Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s desk, where if signed, the bill will become law.

In presenting the bill, Clark cited studies from the United Kingdom and Johns Hopkins University urging against gender-affirming care for minors. Democratic Sen. Greg Leding of Fayetteville urged members not to vote for the bill, citing studies that show gender-affirming care improves the mental health of trans youth.

"If you needed medical care, no matter how much you might distrust doctors, I don't think anyone in this room would turn to anybody else in this room to provide that healthcare," Leding said. "We turn to doctors, and right now the consensus is children need to have the flexibility to receive counseling. Nobody is getting some of these surgeries at these very young ages that we’re talking about."

Earlier Monday, the American Civil Liberties Union held a news conference urging Gov. Asa Hutchinson not to sign the bill should it pass. Representatives from various medical groups joined in the conference, as parents and Washington County Justice of the Peace Evelyn Rios Stafford, Arkansas’ only openly transgender public official.

Actor and transgender activist Laverne Cox said HB1570 is just one of many the bills around the country that discriminates against transgender people.

"I encourage us to look at this in the context of years-long attempts to stigmatize and further marginalize trans people and have that stigma codified into law. This is not new, we’ve seen "bathroom bills," we’ve seen other bills in previous years," Cox said.

Similar bills have also been proposed by lawmakers in Alabama and Tennessee, though Arkansas' is the closest to becoming law. Chase Strangio, the ACLU’s deputy director for transgender justice, said his group will attempt to block the law in the courts should the governor give his approval.

"As we know, when states step in to ban healthcare that people need, it doesn't mean that people stop getting the healthcare; it means they stop getting it safely, it means they stop getting it from their doctors," Strangio said. "We need to be very concerned about what’s going to happen to all the young people who may have been relying on this care for five-plus years to have it immediately cut off from them."

The bill’s passage comes days after Gov. Hutchinson signed a bill banning transgender girls from playing on school sports teams corresponding with their gender identity, and a bill that would allow physicians not to partake in medical procedures based on moral objections.

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