With little discussion, the Senate Public Health Committee today endorsed three anti-abortion bills, adding to the stack of incursions on women’s medical rights. It also sent to final passage in the Senate an anti-transgender bill over extensive opposing testimony.
All Republican-sponsored, the four abortion bills on today’s agenda were:
HB 1589, which prohibits any type of business between a government — city, county or state — with an agency whose activities include abortion. State hospitals are exempted. The bill, said opponent Karen Musick, would prevent an abortion for a child who was a ward of the state. “The state does not have the right to force a 100-year-old child to carry a pregnancy to term,” Musick said. It was endorsed.
HB 1402 to make it harder to obtain an abortion by pill shortly after fertilization, with restrictions on doctors, reporting requirements, a requirement to attempt to schedule a return visit with the woman and other hurdles. It would eliminate abortion pills through the mail and prohibit telemedicine, both recommended by medical groups. It would require three appointments for women, an undue burden for women who often must travel great distances to a clinic, Jessica Lloyd testified. It was endorsed.
HB 1572 to require a three-day waiting period before a woman can receive the two-step pharmaceutical abortions provided by two clinics in Arkansas in the first 10 weeks of pregnancy. It comes with extensive reporting and other requirements. It was endorsed in three minutes, with opposition testimony from Lloyd.
SB468 to make it a felony to perform an abortion on account of the race or genetic abnormality of a fetus. It was passed over today.
Opponents were limited to two minutes of testimony. No witnesses appeared in support. The outcomes were foreordained in a committee packed with foes of abortion. Chair Cecile Bledsoe didn’t bother to ask for “no” votes on the do-pass motions. She knew there’d be none.
The committee also endorsed one of the meanest bills of the legislative session, Rep. Robin Lundstrum’s HB 1570 to prevent medical services to transgender minors. Opponents in the House said no surgery is being performed on minors today. But they are sometimes receiving hormonal or puberty-blocking treatment that would be banned and opponents said the breadth of the language would also prohibit needed counseling for transgender youth. Lundstrum disputed the bill bans counseling. She also continued to described chemical treatment as gender mutilation. Two Arkansas psychiatrists testified for Lundstrum’s bill. They said transition hasn’t improved lives of many who were treated and that younger people tend to “desist” from a change when they grow older. The decisions should be delayed.
Bledsoe, who warned the 13 people signed up to oppose the bill they’d be ordered out of the room if they exceeded their two minutes, urged Lundstrum’s witnesses to testify as long as they wanted. They weren’t covered by a time limit, she assured them.
Opponents included the uncle of a transgender girl, who said court testimony contradicted Lundstrum’s experts. A transgender woman who talked about the hostile world transgender people already face said, “You cannot erase us. Please stop trying.”
A father of a transgender youth read a suicide note from a transgender female who said she’d been “poisoned by a society that didn’t want to understand us.” Stop hurting, persecuting and bullying my kid, Chris Attig said.
Counselor Courtney Frierson said the bill would put up barriers to therapy and encourage state-sanctioned violence toward transgender people. A spokesman for the Arkansas chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics opposed the bill. She said it could increase suicide rates and limit referrals by doctors.
A mother testified tearfully about her transgender son who became suicidal at puberty before he transitioned. “What you’re missing is the joy that boy had on his face” when he realized he was really a boy. “I’m sorry you’re missing out on knowing all these people. If you pass this bill, kids are going to die and it’s all on y’all.”
Another mother came with her son and talked about the years of work she’d done with medical treatment. She said he was now happy. She said she’d have never consulted politicians about what was right for her son. She said they suggest they know better what’s best for her son.
Dr. Kathryn Stambough, an ob/gyn at UAMS, said transgender youth and parents deserve the same dignity and respect as others. “I can’t underestimate the enormity of damage this bill would cause.”
Sen. Bart Hester pressed a pediatrician on the time when a child might have some input on gender. As early as one or two years old? No, cognitive development wouldn’t be sufficient then, she said. So, he said, you agree with me, “we just disagree on the age. I say it’s 18.”
That set him up for a subsequent social worker, Kirsten Sowell, who asked Hester if he wasn’t sure about his gender until he was 18. That drew a chuckle from the audience. Hester tried to draw her out, saying she agreed with him that there’d be an inappropriate date. No, she said, that was a medical issue. She added, “I don’t think there’s very much I agree with you on.”
Stacy O’Brien said the sponsors’ words say “love” but their actions say “hate.”
Willow Breshears, a transgender woman, said she was happy with her transition and that she was a woman, no matter what backers of the bill might call her
M.D. Hunter, a gay man, said legislators had disrespected transgender people during hearings on transgender bills such as by leaving the room, talking in the hall and paying attention to cell phones.
Elizabeth Barger, grandmother of a transgender child, said, “This bill is maddening.” She said it is contradicted by mountains of evidence. When her grandson came out, she said, “it was like a light went on in his life.” She said, “I thank God he is 18 and out of the reach of a bill like this.”
Dr. Michelle Hutchinson, who works with transgender children at Arkansas Children’s Hospital, said “these kids know who they are and they know from a very young age.” She said there are multiple medical guidelines for the treatment of these children. “We follow those guidelines to the letter.” She said the sponsor’s experts spent a lot of time relaying inaccuracies and old studies that have been debunked.
“Care of transgender children keeps them alive,” she said.
No decisions are made for children in a vacuum and they are not made until around puberty, though many have known about their status for years before that, Hutchinson said.
Kids she treats have heard about this legislation, she said. “There have been multiple kids in the emergency room for attempted suicide since the bill was introduced. I guarantee if this bill passes, children will die and I will call you every single time.”
Lundstrum closed by saying children weren’t being marginalized, to which someone in the audience groaned.
The bill was endorsed without a no vote.