Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson Defies Party Line, Vetoes Transgender Youth Treatment Ban

Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson on Monday rejected proposed legislation that would have made his state the first to prohibit medical professionals from providing necessary gender-affirming treatment to transgender youth, one week after lawmakers passed the bill with overwhelming support.

The Republican governor described the bill, which sought to prevent doctors across Arkansas from offering a range of medical treatments to trans youth, including hormone therapy and surgical procedures, as "over broad" during a news conference held Monday afternoon.

"If House Bill 1570 becomes law, then we are creating new standards of legislative interference with physicians and parents as they deal with some of the most complex and sensitive matters involving young people," the governor said, announcing his decision to veto the legislative proposal.

State lawmakers can override the veto through a simple majority vote, and Hutchinson acknowledged that the General Assembly "will likely" do so.

Advocacy groups, such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Arkansas, previously vowed to pursue legal action against state lawmakers should the medical treatment ban take effect.

"Medical decisions belong to trans youth, their parents, and their doctor—not the government," said Holly Dickson, executive director of the ACLU of Arkansas, in a statement released after the state legislature voted in favor of the bill's passage last week.

"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," the statement continued. "What could possibly be more cruel than trying to take away a child's access to the care that could save their life?"

Governor Asa Hutchinson, Arkansas
Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, on Monday rejected legislation that sought to ban gender affirming medical treatments for trans youth. In the photo, Hutchinson delivers a speech on the second day of the Republican National Convention on July 19, 2016, in Cleveland. Alex Wong/Getty Images

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Hutchinson's veto follow pleas from pediatricians, social workers and the parents of transgender youth who said the measure would harm a community already at risk for depression and suicide.

It was the latest measure targeting transgender people that easily advanced in the Arkansas Legislature and other states this year. Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee's governors have signed laws banning transgender girls and women from competing on school sports teams consistent with the gender identity.

Hutchinson recently signed a measure allowing doctors to refuse to treat someone because of moral or religious objections, a law that opponents have said could be used to turn away LGBTQ patients.