UPDATE: The Senate completed approval today of HB 1570, which would prohibit medically necessary services to transgender youth younger than 18.
The vote was 28-7. The ACLU immediately said it would sue if Governor Hutchinson signs the bill. So far, no statement from him. Update: He is reviewing it
Sen. Alan Clark, defended taking the decision away from the entirety of the medical profession and parents. He cited a debunked study from Sweden in justifying the decision. He justified taking the decision away from parents by saying the legislature does it all the time, such as by requiring infant car seats.
Sen. Greg Leding and Clarke Tucker were among speakers in opposition to the bill. Leding said he spoke for constituents and read a letter from a mother with a struggling child.
Tucker said similar laws had already been struck down for violating the Constitution and sex discrimination statutes. “We are walking down a path that Arkansas will be on the losing side of one more time.” He also said the legislature shouldn’t replace the judgment of doctors. He noted that the legislature has just passed a law allowing doctors to refuse care if it violates their conscience. There are doctors who’ve testified failing to provide transition care to transgender children would violate their conscience. “If we pass this bill we are ordering those doctors to violate their conscience.”
Sen. Jason Rapert took umbrage. “Your sex is determined when you’re born,” he said, except for a very small percentage of people. He objected to being made to feel guilty by people like Tucker who are supporters of choice on abortion. He said children are just confused and doctors shouldn’t encourage the confusion. “Vote for this bill and show that somebody still has common sense,” he said.
Sen. Joyce Elliott asked if the legislature really knew best. Was there a person in the chamber who had to be told their gender. “Is it possible that these kids, too, just know who they are? Are we in a better position to define who they are?”
She noted the bill said only a few people were affected. That’s huge if it’s your child, she said. “Don’t erase these kids. Don’t tell parents their kids don’t matter.”
Sen. Keith Ingram responded to Rapert who said doctors should tell the truth. We do have doctors telling the truth and this bill muzzles them. He also said it is common sense to let parents make decisions for their children. He read a letter from the academy of child and adolescent psychiatrists who said evidence supports gender-affirming treatment and this bill will cause harm to children by increasing the risk of suicide and other negative mental health outcomes. He also addressed the puberty blocker alarm raised by Clark. He said they’ve been used safely for years, including for girls who’ve had puberty at too young an age. “Show compassion,” he said. “Allow doctors to practice what they’re taught.”
Sen. Missy Irvin went far afield, bringing up genital mutilation in Africa, which is not a chosen procedure by someone suffering gender dysphoria. That is not what is being defended by medical experts in Arkansas.
Clark contends there’s nothing in the bill that prevents counseling. A procession of doctors have said otherwise, that it ties their hands in making such referrals, at the risk of loss of medical license. He said the bill will simply prevent children from making a decision they are too young to make.
Clark also emphasized an opposition to transition by a retired Johns Hopkins faculty member, who says psychiatric treatment is the only thing needed. True. But he does not mention that Johns Hopkins resumed transgender services four years ago.
The last stab at legislative conscience was mounted in the morning by the ACLU against what was described as the most extreme ban in the country.
Dr. Lee Beers, the president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, joined parents and LGBTQ rights advocates at a virtual press conference to urge Arkansas officials to oppose legislation that would deny medically necessary health care services to transgender youth.
House Bill 1570 would be the first total ban on gender-affirming care for trans youth and the most extreme anti-trans legislation in the country, the ACLU said.
Laverne Cox, actor and activist
Dr. Lee Savio Beers, MD, FAAP, President, American Academy of Pediatrics
Dr. Natalie Burr, pediatrician and member, Arkansas Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics
Joanna Brandt, mother of a trans child
Evelyn Rios Stafford, Justice of the Peace, District 12, Washington County, AR
Chase Strangio, deputy director for transgender justice, ACLU
Rumba Yambú, director, inTRANSitive
UPDATE: During the news conference, Dr. Beers said the legislation is harmful to transgender youth, who suffer substantial mental health problems, and puts health care in the control of politicians rather than physicians.
The bill ignores and undermines evidence-based medical care, she said. Pediatricians would be penalized for making referrals and it would require them to ignore standards for the treatment of transgender children. It is “unfortunate and dangerous” to “politicize medical care.”
The children just want to belong, she said. “This is discrimination by legislation and transgender children and all children deserve better.”
Laverne Cox, the actor and LGBTQ activist, decried codifying into law the stigmatizing of transgender children. It would make it illegal for doctors to provide health care to children. They could face license revocation or civil punishment.
“It just seems so insane and so ridiculous.” She implored the Senate to defeat the bill and, if it passes, for the governor to veto it.
Rumba Yambu, who leads an Arkansas support group, vowed to continue the fight for every trans kid and family and in Arkansas.
Joanna Brandt, the mother of a transgender son, talked about her experience seeking medical help for her son. Asking a politician never would have occurred to her, she said. After two years of hormone therapy, her son is now happy, she said. “Trans girls are girls. Trans boys are boys. Denying them gender-affirming health care is denying them the right to be themselves.” She said the legislature is telling her she doesn’t know what is best for her son.
Dr. Natalie Burr, an Arkansas pediatrician, said the bill creates barriers for Arkansas children. She said she’d never imagined she could face penalties for providing medical services to a “marginalized” group of patients. She said the bill is already harming children, with an increase in ER visits by suicidal children. She said it was disheartening to “control even the conversations I have with families about children’s care.”
JP Evelyn Rios-Stafford appeared as the only elected transgender official in Arkansas. “I’m here to say you need to listen. This legislation is a national embarrassment for Arkansas.” The legislators do not know better than the experts, she said. Instead of focusing on issues like poverty, they instead are “punching down” on trans youths and putting their lives in jeopardy. The bill sends the message “Arkansas is not a welcoming place.”
She added, “Today it’s trans young people. Who will it be tomorrow?”
Chase Strangio, deputy director for transgender justice of the ACLU said a lawsuit “absolutely” will be filed as soon as possible if the bill becomes law. It will be costly and painful for the state, he said.
He said a law such as this one has never been passed before. Alabama and Tennessee are considering similar bills.
Every major medical association has opposed the legislation, Strangio said.
Why Arkansas? The point was made that the many anti-LGBT bills are drafted by national groups and distributed to states where they’ll be well-received.
A “big, scary, open question,” Strangio said, is what happens to vulnerable kids if the bill passes. How will they get care? Will they seek black-market hormones, for example. “We will find a way to care for them … but this is incredibly dangerous from a medical perspective.”
After the vote, the ACLU issued a statement:
“Medical decisions belong to trans youth, their parents, and their doctor – not the government,” said Holly Dickson, ACLU of Arkansas executive director. “This bill flies in the face of common decency, basic human rights, and the advice of every major medical association – not to mention federal law. What could possibly be more cruel than trying to take away a child’s access to the care that could save their life?
“By passing this cruel and discriminatory legislation, Arkansas legislators ignored the pleas of parents, doctors, and trans young people themselves. Make no mistake: denying trans people health care because of who they are is wrong and illegal, and we’ll be ready to take this fight to court if this bill becomes law. But it doesn’t have to come to that. The whole country is watching whether Arkansas will continue this discriminatory race to the bottom that has cost other states millions. House Bill 1570 is the codification of cruelty, and for the well-being of all Arkansans, Governor Hutchinson should veto this cruel and harmful bill the moment it reaches his desk. If he doesn’t, we will see the state in court.”
The Human Rights Campaign also weighed in:
“As we have seen in places like North Carolina and Indiana in years past, the reputational, economic and legal harm that comes from passing cruel, discriminatory legislation like HB 1570 will hurt Arkansans,” said HRC Arkansas State Manager Eric Reece. “If Gov. Hutchinson signs this dangerous bill — the third anti-LGBTQ bill sent to his desk over just the last few days — he will continue to own that harm to kids, families, and everyone here in our state. If, however, he wants to actually protect Arkansas kids, he should listen to doctors and families and veto this cruel legislation immediately.”