Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson vetoed a bill that would’ve blocked trans kids from gender-affirming health care on Monday, because even the stalwart Republican recognized it went too far.
“This would be, and is, a vast government overreach,” Hutchinson told reporters in a press conference. “The state should not presume to jump into the middle of every medical, human, ethical issue.”
Had Hutchinson signed the bill, trans and nonbinary kids in Arkansas would’ve been banned from accessing health care like reversible puberty blockers and hormone therapy—even if they had their parents’ support. Legislators in nearly 20 states have introduced similar bans on health care for trans children, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, but Arkansas was on track to be the first state to turn it into law.
There are likely fewer than 200 young people in Arkansas who may be receiving what Hutchinson called “hormone treatment,” according to the governor. He said he worried that the bill would cut those kids off from that care, forcing them to potentially turn to the black market, leave the state, or go without.
“Denying best medical care to transgender youth can lead to significant harm to the young person,” Hutchinson said, pointing out that LGBTQ kids face a devastatingly high risk of suicide. In a 2018 study published by the American Academy of Pediatrics, more than 50 percent of trans male and 30 percent of trans female teenagers said they had tried to die by suicide. More than 40 percent of nonbinary teens said they’d done the same.
Despite Republicans’ reliance on hateful rhetoric that compares health care for trans people to “genital mutilation,” no one under 18 in Arkansas is undergoing gender-affirming genital surgeries, Hutchinson acknowledged. Guidelines from the Endocrine Society recommend that only people who are at least 18 receive gender-affirming genital surgeries.
But the battle over health care for trans people in Arkansas isn’t over. Hutchinson fully expects the state Legislature to override his veto. Asked how he might try to combat that override, Hutchinson demurred.
“They will know, through private communication and the communication today, my reasoning on this,” he said of state legislators. “We’ll see where it goes from there.”
Two other states have also recently pushed forward bans on gender-affirming health care for kids. Alabama’s Senate has approved a bill to make it a felony to give kids gender-affirming health care, while a Tennessee legislative committee advanced one that would charge people who provide such care with criminal misdemeanors.
Despite saying Monday that he wants Arkansas to project “the message of tolerance and diversity” to the rest of the nation, Hutchinson’s decision doesn’t exactly make him a LGBTQ ally. In late March, he signed a bill to block trans women and girls from participating on sports teams that match their gender identity.
Lawmakers have introduced similar measures in more than half of all U.S. states so far this year.