Arkansas Republicans Pass Bill Prohibiting Vital Health Care for Trans Youth

The Arkansas state legislature passed a bill on Monday barring transgender people under 18 from receiving vital gender-affirming care like hormones and puberty blockers. If Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson signs the bill, it will be the first of its kind to become law in the U.S.

The bill, HB 1570, bars doctors from providing puberty blockers, which are reversible treatments that pause puberty temporarily, to trans people under 18. The bill also prohibits doctors from prescribing hormones, referring trans people under 18 to other specialists, or performing gender-affirming surgery on them.

In addition, the bill allows insurance companies to refuse coverage for gender-affirming care to trans people of any age.

“HB 1570 is one of the most extreme and harmful anti-trans bills in the country,” wrote the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Arkansas. “If passed and signed, it will be the most extreme piece of anti-trans legislation ever signed into law.”

Opponents of the bill like the ACLU say the bill will put young Arkansans at risk of mental health issues like depression, social isolation and suicidal ideations. Studies have shown that trans people who use puberty blockers in their adolescence are more likely to have better mental health outcomes and less suicidal thoughts as adults.

Opponents also say the ban takes away the right of supportive parents to seek health care for their children and might force families with trans children to move out of state.

And they have blasted the ban for elevating unscientific and transphobic fearmongering.

For example, one of the bill’s Republican sponsors, Sen. Alan Clark, has claimed it is necessary to “protect children from making mistakes that they will have a very difficult time coming back from.”

Trans advocates have decried this stance as a fundamental attack on the right to gender self-determination, which should be protected for all people, including youth. And they have pointed out that Clark’s claim is entirely baseless in relation to puberty blockers, which have fully reversible effects if a person decides to stop taking them. Indeed, if a young person has any uncertainty about what gender identity they wish to inhabit in the future, they can buy themselves time to make a more considered decision through puberty blockers, which prevent puberty from causing permanent physical changes that could increase their lifelong experiences of dysphoria.

Puberty blockers are “medically effective in treating gender dysphoria in youth without generating any long-term desire for reversals,” writes STAT News.

“There is NOT a medical debate over this care. There is a consensus that it is safe, effective, & necessary,” wrote ACLU lawyer Chase Strangio on Twitter. “Stripping youth of this care even when it is recommended by their doctors, supported by their parents, and demanded by the dire situations of the youth is cruel & deadly.”

“As a 14-year-old, I shouldn’t have to be worried about my rights being taken away. I should not have to go out of my way to make other people happy,” Wyatt Williams, a 14-year-old trans boy, told The Guardian. “I don’t want other kids to have to grow up at age 10 and have their basic human rights debated.”

Trans children have said the treatments Republicans seek to ban are essential to their mental health. “If I weren’t able to have the healthcare I’m currently provided, I’d probably be dead right now,” Corey Hyman, a 15-year-old trans boy, told The Guardian. Hyman began taking testosterone after seeking care from doctors and therapists dozens of times over two years.

In the bill, Republicans cite cherry-picked statistics from sources like the American Psychological Association (APA) to make it seem as though the science is on their side on the issue of gender-affirming health care for trans people. But major medical organizations including the APA, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Endocrine Society, the World Health Organization, and many others say the types of gender-affirming health care banned by the Arkansas legislature should be legal and accessible to all.

The ACLU has called on Hutchinson to veto the bill. “Stopping this bill is necessary to defend and protect the lives of trans people,” it tweeted on Tuesday. “Every trans and non-binary person deserves access to gender affirming health care, no matter where we live or what type of health insurance we have.”

However, Hutchinson has already signed a slate of other transphobic bills into law recently, including one banning transgender women and girls from participating in school sports teams and another allowing doctors to refuse care to patients based on religious objections, which opponents say allows for disproportionate discrimination against LGBTQ people.

The bills in Arkansas are part of a slate of anti-trans bills being proposed and passed across the country by Republicans in state legislatures. Mississippi and Tennessee have also passed legislation barring trans women and girls from participating in sports, and South Dakota’s Governor, Republican Kristi Noem, signed an executive order doing so on Monday.

Republicans in 25 states have introduced more than 80 bills targeting trans people so far in 2021, which is the most anti-trans proposals filed in a single year.