This week, Arkansas passed legislation that bans access to gender-affirming care for minors. The bill now goes to Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson to be signed into law. If signed, Arkansas will become the first state to ban gender-affirming care for trans youth.
The bill, misleadingly called the Save Adolescents from Experimentation (SAFE) Act, would prohibit doctors from providing gender affirming health care such as puberty blockers, hormone therapy, and transition-related surgeries. It also prohibits public funds from being dispersed to organizations that provide or recommend gender-affirming care to anyone under the age of 18, bans state-owned facilities from providing care related to transitioning, and prohibits the state’s Medicaid program from reimbursing or covering gender-affirming care to those under 18. Any doctor caught in violation of the law would risk losing their license.
17 states have introduced similar legislation targeting transgender youth, some of which prevent them from receiving gender-affirming health care and several that prohibit transgender girls from playing girls and women’s sports.
“Medical decisions belong to trans youth, their parents, and their doctor – not the government,” said ACLU of Arkansas executive director Holly Dickson in a statement. “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?”
Major medical associations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP), have spoken out in support of the need for trans youth to have access to transition-related care, pointing out that trans minors without access to care are at a much higher risk of suicide.
“Variations in gender expression represent normal and expectable dimensions of human development. They are not considered to be pathological. Health promotion for all youth encourages open exploration of all identity issues, including sexual orientation, gender identity, and/or gender expression according to recognized practice guidelines. Research consistently demonstrates that gender diverse youth who are supported to live and/or explore the gender role that is consistent with their gender identity have better mental health outcomes than those who are not,” said AACAP in a statement.
“This bill is harmful in two ways,” Lee Beers, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics said. “One, it threatens the health and well-being of transgender youth, and two, it puts politicians rather than pediatricians in charge of a child’s medical care.”
If signed into law by Gov. Hutchinson, the bill will face legal challenges as the ACLU has already pledged to take it to the courts.
“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,” said the ACLU of Arkansas’s Holly Dickinson.