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Arkansas Becomes First US State to Ban Transgender Youth Treatment After Veto Override

© REUTERS / Brendan McDermidFILE PHOTO: A person holds up a flag during rally to protest the Trump administration's reported transgender proposal to narrow the definition of gender to male or female at birth, at City Hall in New York City, U.S., October 24, 2018.
FILE PHOTO: A person holds up a flag during rally to protest the Trump administration's reported transgender proposal to narrow the definition of gender to male or female at birth, at City Hall in New York City, U.S., October 24, 2018. - Sputnik International, 1920, 07.04.2021
Earlier, Arkansas’ Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson vetoed an anti-transgender health care bill known as the Save Adolescents From Experimentation (SAFE) Act. The measure effectively bans gender-affirming treatments, including surgery and hormone therapy, for people under the age of 18.

Arkansas lawmakers overrided Hutchinson’s veto on Tuesday, making Arkansas the first US state to outlaw treatment for transgender youth regardless of whether or not individuals have parental consent for medical care.

The Arkansas House of Representatives voted 71 to 24 to override Hutchinson’s veto, a measure that was subsequently followed by a 25 to 8 vote in the Senate. 

In addition to banning gender confirming treatment to trans youth, the SAFE Act, which is also known as House Bill 1570, will also bar medical professionals from giving recommendations to other providers for such treatments.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas condemned the veto in a late Tuesday statement and has threatened legal action.

“Arkansas legislators disregarded widespread, overwhelming, and bipartisan opposition to this bill and continued their discriminatory crusade against trans youth,” Holly Dickson, the executive director of the Arkansas ACLU chapter, said in a statement. ”Attempting to block trans youth from the care they need simply because of who they are is not only wrong, it’s also illegal, and we will be filing a lawsuit to challenge this law in court.” 

Chase Strangio, deputy director for transgender justice with the ACLU’s LGBTQ and HIV Project, has also accused the Arkansas legislature of ignoring dozens of local doctors and national medical experts.

Strangio stressed that “gender-affirming care is life-saving care and banning that care will have devastating and in some cases deadly consequences.”

Figures released by the American Academy for Pediatrics notes that nearly 14% of adolescents have reported a previous suicide attempt. However, of that figure, 50% of the attempts were carried out by trans youth who were transitioning from female to male.

Arkansas legislature approved the bill last month along with a wave of other bills targeting the transgender community. Lawmakers in at least 25 states, including Mississippi, Arkansas and Tennessee have recently enacted legislation to restrict transgender athletes from competing in school sports.

The SAFE Act has faced opposition from many other groups including the American Academy of Pediatrics, which released a statement saying it opposes any laws that “discriminate against transgender and gender-diverse individuals or interfere in the confidential relationship between a patient and their physician.”

States like Alabama and Tennessee, who are also awaiting lawmakers’ decisions on similar legislation face backlash from critics like Dr. Morissa Ladinsky, an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. 

Ladinsky told the BBC that “the anticipation, uncertainty and fear” of losing gender-affirming care is “chipping away” at transgender youth. 

In an interview with NPR, Ladinsky further indicated that under the Alabama bill, she and her medical team could be charged with Class C felonies for prescribing puberty blockers or hormones. The medical professional could also be hit with a 10-year prison sentence.

Meanwhile, supporters argue they want to protect children from life-changing procedures they would later regret. The side effects of puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones are among the list of concerns, as well as cases where transgender people have reversed their decision to transition. Some believe gender-affirming procedures are “child abuse,” whereas other claim minors do not have the mental capacity to make such decisions.

The SAFE Act is scheduled to take effect on April 30.
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