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Arkansas legislature override governor’s veto to ban gender-affirming care for trans youth

March 18 2021 protest of Arkansas's trans youth health care ban
March 18 2021 protest of Arkansas's trans youth health care ban Photo: ACLU

Just 24 hours after Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) issued a veto to House Bill 1570, both chambers of the Arkansas General Assembly voted to override his veto and implement the proposal into law.

“Today Arkansas legislators disregarded widespread, overwhelming, and bipartisan opposition to this bill and continued their discriminatory crusade against trans youth,” Holly Dickson of the ACLU of Arkansas said in a statement. “As Governor Hutchinson noted in his veto message, denying care to trans youth can lead to harmful and life-threatening consequences.”

Related: Republican wants to stop feds from letting trans youth get health care behind parents’ backs

The ACLU of Arkansas has already said that they plan to sue the state over the bill.

“This is a sad day for Arkansas, but this fight is not over — and we’re in it for the long haul,” Dickson continued. “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.”

The so-called “Arkansas Save Adolescents From Experimentation (SAFE) Act,” will ban gender-affirming care of any kind from being given or even offered for consideration to trans youth. That includes surgery (which trans youth rarely undergo before the age of 18), hormone therapy, and reversible puberty blockers.

Organizations or facilities providing gender-affirming care can lose state funding, state-operated health insurance can no longer cover such care, and doctors that continue to provide such care will risk losing their license by doing so.

The Arkansas House and Senate didn’t have any more publicly scheduled meetings on the same day as of yesterday, when Hutchinson announced his veto — but they convened today, with more meetings being held back or scheduled on later dates. They voted on this and other measures, including one to revoke the governor’s power to issue a mask-wearing mandate.

While several anti-trans proposals have passed into law across state legislatures this year, including in Arkansas, this was the first proposal of its kind to pass both chambers and make it to a governor’s desk.

Given that Hutchinson had already signed two anti-trans bills into law in just the last several weeks, many presumed that he would sign H.B. 1570 as well. After the bill passed the Arkansas Senate on March 29 and was sent to his office on March 30, he had until April 5 to veto it, sign it or send it back to the legislature.

A massive online and in-state campaign was undertook to convince him to veto the bill, and it appears to have worked. Hutchinson surprisingly announced his veto yesterday.

“Government under a conservative philosophy should be restrained,” he said in a video live-streamed from the governor’s mansion. “This is an example of where restraint is better than overbroad actions that interfere with important relationships in our society.”

The state House of Representatives and the Senate “may override the Governor’s veto with a simple majority vote of both chambers,” the House’s website reports.

Both chambers have a Republican supermajority, meaning they have more than two-thirds of members in each chamber caucusing with their party. There are 27 GOP members out of 35 in the state senate, and 76 GOP members out of 100.

The Arkansas House voted to overturn the veto, with approximately 71 for and 24 against. The measure gained one additional vote from when it passed originally.

The Arkansas Senate then followed suit, voting 25 to 8 with two senators not present. Originally, the measure passed the Senate 28 to 7, with each Republican and one Democrat supporting the bill.

“To the transgender and non-binary youth of Arkansas, please know that you deserve love and support and to be affirmed in your gender identity. We will not stop fighting until this cruel and illegal ban is overturned,” Sam Brinton, Vice President of Advocacy said in a statement.

They added, “Governor Hutchinson listened to trans youth and their doctors, the state legislature clearly did not… It is not extreme or sensational to say that this group of young people, who already experience disproportionate rates of violence and suicide attempts, would be put at significantly increased risk of self-harm because of legislation like HB 1570 pushing them farther to the margins of society.”

H.B. 1570 is considered to many, as the ACLU’s Chase Strangio describes it, to be “the single most extreme anti-trans law to ever pass through a state legislature.”

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