Members of the Arkansas House of Representatives have approved a bill banning gender transition-related medical care for people under the age of 18. Lawmakers passed House Bill 1570, sponsored by Republican Rep. Robin Lundstrum of Springdale, in a meeting Wednesday.
Speaking on the House floor, Lundstrum said people under the age of 18 should not be allowed to receive "irreversible" medical treatment, even if they have the approval of a parent or guardian.
"Those kids are precious. Some of them may choose to be transgender when they’re older. That’s okay, that’s their choice. But when they’re under 18, they need to grow up first. That’s a big decision, there’s no going back," Lundstrum said.
The bill, also called the Save Adolescents From Experimentation—or SAFE—Act, passed with 70 lawmakers voting for it, 22 against it, and eight not voting. The legislation would make it illegal for doctors and healthcare providers to perform gender affirmation surgery or prescribe hormone treatments to transgender minors.
Rep. Mary Bentley, R-Perryville, spoke in favor of the bill, saying denying minors access to hormone treatment and gender affirmation surgery would help ease their "confusion."
"The suicide rate among those who [struggle] with gender identity is 20 times greater than average, even after life-changing surgery and hormone therapy. We should be doing everything we can to help these children to keep them in the gender they were created to, to end this suffering," Bentley said.
Democratic Rep. Nicole Clowney of Fayetteville responded, citing research that transition-related medical care improves mental health outcomes in transgender people.
"Nothing about this bill, despite its name, makes these children safer. It does the opposite, denying care makes them more likely to attempt and successfully commit suicide," Clowney said.
Lundstrum said the bill does not prevent transgender minors from obtaining counseling, though Democratic Rep. Deborah Ferguson said the bill’s language could be read to consider counseling as a "medical procedure."
Two Republicans, Spencer Hawks and Lee Johnson, joined Democrats in voting against the bill, while Democrats David Fielding and Reginald Murdock did not vote. The bill now heads to the Senate for a first and second reading, then to a committee for a vote.