LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas (AP) – The Arkansas Senate on Monday approved a ban on gender-confirming treatment for minors, sending the governor with a restriction on transgender youth that has been criticized by medical and protection groups from childhood.
The majority Republican Senate voted 28-7 in favor of the legislation. If the bill passes, it would be the first such ban in the country, opponents say. The bill would prohibit doctors from providing hormone therapy or sex-confirming surgery to minors, or referring them to other providers for treatment.
“This bill aims to protect children in an area where they really need protection,” said Republican Senator Alan Clark, sponsor of the measure, before the vote.
But pediatricians, social workers and parents of transgender youth have said it would have the opposite effect on a community already vulnerable to depression and suicide.
“Denying them access to gender-affirming health care is denying them the right to be themselves,” Joanna Brandt, mother of a transgender boy from Arkansas, said during a press conference before the vote. “My son will be devastated if he is forced to stop his hormone treatment.”
Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, did not say whether he supported the measure. A spokeswoman said he would take a closer look at the bill and listen to the debate on it, but did not say when he would make a decision. He has five days, not including Sunday, after the bill reaches his desk to sign or veto the legislation before it becomes law without his signature.
The measure is one of several targeting of transgender people that has increased in Arkansas and other states this year. Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee adopted measures prohibiting transgender girls and women from participating in school sports teams consistent with their gender identity.
Hutchinson signed a law on Friday it would allow doctors to refuse to treat someone based on religious or moral objections, a move that opponents say could be used to refuse LGBTQ patients.
The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBTQ rights group, aired a television ad in Arkansas over the weekend to criticize measures targeting trans youth.
“The fact that Arkansas is prioritizing unpopular and discriminatory bills like (the treatment ban) during this legislative session, despite the economic devastation the pandemic has had on the state, shows that” they prioritize cruelty to children rather than actually helping the Arkansans, ”Alphonso David, the group. president, said in a statement.
Similar bans on transgender treatment are being considered by lawmakers in Alabama and Tennessee.
Opponents of the bill include the American Academy of Pediatrics. Group chairman Dr Lee Beers called the measure “discrimination by law” and said it would politicize medical care.
The U.S. Civil Liberties Union has said it plans to take legal action to block the treatment ban if signed into law. If signed, the ban would take effect later this summer.