Just two years after Arkansas passed a ban on trans youth accessing gender-affirming care, the state’s governor signed a law making it easier for people to sue healthcare professionals for malpractice if they provide it.
The bill, S.B. 199, allows anyone who received gender-affirming care as a minor to sue their doctor. They can file a lawsuit up to 15 years after they turn 18, longer than the normal two-year statute of limitations on medical malpractice suits in the state. The bill includes puberty blockers, meaning that if they are given at a time when they can actually block puberty and the patient changes their mind in their 20s or early 30s, they can sue.
The bill doesn’t even require that patients show that malpractice occurred in order to sue for malpractice, instead allowing people to sue if they experience any injury as a result of “the gender transition procedure, related treatment, or the after effects,” and that injury can include “without limitation any physical, psychological, emotional, or physiological injury.”
The law will make it impossible for healthcare providers to get insurance if they provide gender-affirming care to minors, experts say.
In 2021, Arkansas became the first state to ban gender-affirming care for minors after the Republican legislature passed a ban over the then-governor’s veto. That law has not been implemented as a federal judge issued an injunction as a lawsuit against the bill works through the court system.
“A woman shall not wear anything that pertains to a man, nor man put on a woman’s garments,” state Rep. Mary Bentley (R) said during the debate on that bill in 2021. “For all who do so are an abomination.”
The state’s new governor, Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders (R), is not opposed to denying health care to minors and signed the new law yesterday, and the legislature didn’t have to pass it over her veto.
“Arkansas infamously passed the first law in the nation to try to ban gender-affirming care for trans youth and after hearing extensive evidence, the courts have blocked that ban,” ACLU Arkansas executive director Holly Dickson said in a statement. “This bill is an effort to achieve indirectly what the Constitution prohibits the state from doing directly.”
Major medical professional groups like the American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Psychological Association all support gender-affirming care for trans youth.
This is the second anti-LGBTQ+ bill that Huckabee Sanders has signed into law in her first several months in office. She signed S.B. 43 in late February, reclassifying all “drag performance” as adult-oriented entertainment. The bill says that any performance where an individual uses “clothing, makeup, or other accessories that are traditionally worn by members of and are meant to exaggerate the gender identity of the performer’s opposite sex” counts as drag, which critics say could even include trans people doing karaoke.
State Sen. Gary Stubblefield (R) introduced the anti-drag bill because he said it was necessary to stop people from “taking children and putting them in front of a bunch of grown men who are dressed like women.”
Stubblefield also sponsored the malpractice law, calling gender-affirming care “mutilations.” He brushed off concerns that that bill would also get tied up in the courts because of its intent to deny people health care based on their identities.
“Anything can create a court challenge in the world we live in today,” he said. “I know we did what we thought was best for our children.”
State Democrats opposed the bill. State Sen. Clarke Tucker (D) called it “big government overreach.”
“99% of the people in this state will never have any idea this bill passes,” he said last month as the chamber debated the bill. “But for the lives it does affect, it’s soul-crushing.”
“This bill really targets a marginalized and misunderstood community in Arkansas,” he continued. “And it’s called gender-affirming care for a reason because we are affirming who these people are. And when we pass bills like this the message is not that they’re affirmed, it’s that they’re rejected by their own state.”
The legislation will take effect this summer if a court doesn’t block it.