Gov. Asa Hutchinson is vetoing a bill that would prohibit gender transition procedures for minors in Arkansas.
During a pen-and-pad briefing at the Governor’s Mansion on Monday, Hutchinson announced that he would be vetoing House Bill 1570, which would create the Arkansas Save Adolescents from Experimentation (SAFE) Act. This bill was passed by the House on March 10 and by the Senate on March 30 before heading to the Governor’s desk.
Hutchinson noted that the bill was “well-intended” but was “off course” for the state. “I was told this week that the nation is looking at Arkansas because I have on my desk another bill passed by the General Assembly that is a product of the cultural war in America. I don’t shy away from the battle when it is necessary and defensible,” he said.
He defended the veto decision, saying that the bill would create a new standard of legislative interference, undermining the abilities of parents and medical experts to make complex decisions about their children and patients. The SAFE Act, he said, would led to the state being the “definitive oracle of medical care,” overriding expert medical care and parents’ widhes.
“While in some instances, the state must act to protect life, the state should not presume to jump into the middle of every medical, human and ethical issue. This would be, and is, a vast government overreach,” he said.
Under this bill, gender transition procedures would be prohibited for any individuals under the age of 18 in Arkansas. Physicians and other health care professionals would not be allowed to perform gender transition procedures or refer individuals under the age of 18 for gender transition procedures.
In addition, the bill prohibits public funds from being distributed, directly or indirectly, to an organization or individual that provides gender transition procedures to individuals under the age of 18.
The bill would also prohibit reimbursement for gender transition procedures for individuals under the age of 18 for insurance policies’ health benefit plans.
“It is of grave concern to the General Assembly that the medical community is allowing individuals who experience distress at identifying with their biological sex to be subjects of irreversible and drastic nongenital gender reassignment surgery and irreversible, permanently sterilizing genital gender reassignment surgery, despite the lack of studies showing that the benefits of such extreme interventions outweigh the risks,”the bill reads.
To Hutchinson, HB1570 is overbroad in its implications and potential impact on children. He said that, since the bill does not include a grandfather clause, minors taking hormone therapy now will be unable to continue if the bill is passed. “If this bill passes, what happens to those young people that are currently under treatment? That makes my heart hurt to think about it. I wish the legislation would – should have included a grandfather clause as well as be more narrow,” he said.
As a result, minors could resort to the black market or going out of state to seek treatment, Hutchinson said.
This is the third controversial medical bill that has touched Hutchinson’s desk in recent weeks. The previous two bills – SB289 and SB354 – addressed health care providers’ right to “not participate in non-emergency treatments that violate their conscience” and prohibit trans women from participating on women’s sports teams in high school and college sports in Arkansas, respectively. Hutchinson said that he viewed the bills separately, although the bills deal with similar subject matter.
“I look at those as totally independent and separate measures. The sad part about it is that the first two measures were considered as anti-transgender, anti-gay, perhaps, and I think that is far from the truth. But you have to be concerned the image that you are expressing from a state standpoint. I want people in Arkansas and across the country to understand, that whether they’re transgender or otherwise, they are loved, they are appreciated. They make up part of our state. We want to send a message of tolerance and diversity,” he said.
With the veto, the bill will return to the General Assembly, which can vote to override the veto with a simple majority. Despite making a statement against the bill, Hutchinson expects to see the veto overridden.
“Whenever you had this bill pass with overwhelming majority, I fully expect a veto override. That’s the legislative prerogative, like this is the responsibility that I have. I’ve made my statement on it, and we’ll see where it goes from here,” Hutchinson said.