Gov. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas vetoed a bill on Monday that would make it illegal for transgender minors to receive gender-affirming medication or surgery — a rare Republican rejection amid the growing conservative effort to restrict transgender people’s health care and participation in society.
The Arkansas State Legislature could override Mr. Hutchinson’s veto of the bill, known as H.B. 1570. Republicans hold large majorities in both chambers and passed the bill last month with mostly party-line votes: 70-22 in the House and 28-7 in the Senate.
“I was told this week that the nation is looking at Arkansas because I have on my desk another bill passed by the General Assembly that is a product of the cultural war in America,” Mr. Hutchinson said in announcing his veto. “I don’t shy away from the battle when it is necessary and defensible, but the most recent action of the General Assembly, while well intended, is off course.”
Chase Strangio, a lawyer at the American Civil Liberties Union who has fought anti-trans legislation in Arkansas and other states, said that while he and other advocates needed to be “tentative in our celebration” because of the possibility of an override, Mr. Hutchinson’s veto was significant both practically and symbolically.
“First and foremost, it’s such an important rebuke of this sweeping range of legislation targeting trans youth across the country,” Mr. Strangio said. Referring to two states that are considering similar bills, he added: “I hope Alabama’s watching. I hope Tennessee’s watching.”
Young transgender people and their supporters mobilized in opposition to H.B. 1570, along with medical organizations like the Arkansas chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Mr. Strangio said that advocates intended to keep up the pressure as legislators consider overriding Mr. Hutchinson’s veto, and that if the measure was enacted, it could be challenged in court.
The lead sponsors of the bill — State Representative Robin Lundstrum and State Senator Alan Clark, both Republicans — did not respond to a request for comment.
Supporters of the Arkansas bill say it is needed to protect young people from undergoing irreversible medical treatments, and the text of H.B. 1570 claims — contrary to the consensus of medical professionals — that “the risks of gender transition procedures far outweigh any benefit at this stage of clinical study on these procedures.”
Medical research shows the opposite.
In a 2019 statement opposing laws that restrict minors’ access to gender-affirming treatment, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry said, “Blocking access to timely care has been shown to increase youths’ risk for suicidal ideation and other negative mental health outcomes.” More broadly, in an official position paper in 2018, the American Psychiatric Association said there was “significant and longstanding medical and psychiatric literature” demonstrating “clear benefits of medical and surgical interventions” for transgender people.
Mr. Hutchinson’s veto was striking not only because he is a Republican, but also because just last month, he signed bills that allowed doctors to refuse to treat people based on religious or moral objections and barred transgender women and girls from competing on women’s sports teams in high school or college. (Such measures have become popular among conservative lawmakers, who have introduced them in more than two dozen states this year.)
But he argued that H.B. 1570 was “overbroad, extreme and does not grandfather those young people who are currently under hormone treatment.” He added, “The state should not presume to jump into the middle of every medical, human and ethical issue.”
His speech was hardly a ringing affirmation of transgender rights, though. Mr. Hutchinson said he would have signed the bill if it had only prohibited gender-affirming surgeries for minors, and urged legislators to pass a more “restrained” version.
Alan Yuhas contributed reporting.