Arkansas Just Became the First State to Ban Health Care for Trans Kids

Gov. Asa Hutchinson said earlier this week he’d veto a bill that would deny health care to trans young people, but he’s been overruled.
April 6, 2021, 8:05pm
On the left, Gov. Asa Hutchinson. On the right, a Trans pride flags flutter in the wind at a gathering to celebrate International Transgender Day of Visibility.
On the left, Gov. Asa Hutchinson. On the right, a Trans pride flags flutter in the wind at a gathering to celebrate International Transgender Day of Visibility. (Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg via Getty Images) (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images)

Arkansas is set to become the first state in the U.S. to block transgender kids from gender-affirming health care, despite the best efforts of its own Republican governor.

On Tuesday, both chambers of the GOP-dominated Arkansas state Legislature voted in overwhelming majorities to override Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s veto of a bill that will ban trans young people from accessing health care like reversible puberty blockers and hormone therapy.

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Hutchinson had announced that he’d vetoed the bill on Monday. Letting the bill become law, he said in a press conference, “would be, and is, a vast government overreach.”

The Arkansas state legislators, evidently, did not agree. And Hutchinson didn’t expect them to: He freely acknowledged Monday that his veto would likely be overridden.

Legislators in nearly 20 states have introduced similar bans, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. The group had threatened to sue Arkansas if the bill became law. 

There are likely fewer than 200 young people in Arkansas believed to be receiving “hormone treatment,” Gov. Hutchinson said Monday. Now, it’s not clear how or if those kids will continue to receive their necessary health care. They may be forced to rely on the black market or even leave the state. 

Although Republicans have suggested that children are being forced into surgery, guidelines from the Endocrine Society recommend that only people who are at least 18 receive gender-affirming genital surgeries.

“We will see you in court, you cruel, cruel people,” Chase Strangio, deputy director for Transgender Justice for ACLU LGBT & HIV Project, tweeted Tuesday. 

But there’s no telling how long that the ACLU’s lawsuit against Arkansas may drag on for.

“There are kids in these states who are currently receiving life-saving medical care and when these bills go into effect, their ability to receive that care is going to stop,” Kate Oakley, state legislative director and senior counsel for the Human Rights Campaign told VICE News in late March. “That is going to be traumatic for them and it’s going to be traumatic for the kids who come behind them, who would be ready to access that care themselves and then it doesn’t exist for them.

“This is truly life-changingly terrible,” Oakley went on. “Yes, it is my fervent belief that these bills are going to be eventually overturned in court. But that takes time and there’s real harm done in the meantime.”