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Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson On Transgender Health Care Bill: 'Step Way Too Far'

The Arkansas state legislature overrode Gov. Asa Hutchinson's veto of a bill on restricting gender-affirming health care for transgender youth.
Victor J. Blue
Bloomberg via Getty Images
The Arkansas state legislature overrode Gov. Asa Hutchinson's veto of a bill on restricting gender-affirming health care for transgender youth.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson said the state legislature has gone a "step way too far," after the House and Senate on Tuesday voted to override his veto on a bill banning gender-affirming treatments for transgender minors in the state.

Hutchinson, a Republican, said he is disappointed but not surprised by the Republican-led legislature's decision. He said the new law will have devastating repercussions for transgender youth who are already undergoing various medical treatments.

"My own personal view that this is too extreme, it was too broad and did not grandfather in those young people who are currently under hormone treatment," Hutchinson told NPR.

"This puts a very vulnerable population in a more difficult position," he added. "It sends the wrong signal to them."

In passing the Save Adolescents from Experimentation Act, Arkansas became the first state to pass a bill restricting access to gender-affirming health care for anyone under 18, even when they have parental consent. But there are other similar bills working their way through state legislatures.

The act itself, prohibits minors from receiving hormones, puberty blockers and transition-related surgeries. Health care providers who offered such care could lose their license to practice in the state or be vulnerable to civil litigation.

"I'm sorry," Hutchinson said, to those who will lose access to treatment when the law goes into effect.

"That's exactly the reason I vetoed the bill," the governor explained. "We did not want to interrupt treatment that the parents had agreed to, the patient had agreed to and the physician recommended."

He urged his Republican colleagues to rethink the desire to interfere with "every aspect of the cultural wars."

"The Republican Party that I grew up with believed in a restrained government that did not jump in the middle of every issue."

He said transgender health care of young people should be limited to the patient, parents and physicians. "And we ought to yield to that decision making unless there's a compelling state reason."

In an attempt to provide context for the trend by Republicans in passing anti-transgender legislation across the country, Hutchinson said there is an overwhelming sense among party members that "there's undue influence" on young people to reconsider their gender.

But he said, "This was one step way too far and I couldn't abide by it."

Still, he noted every bill has to be considered individually and he does support some transgender restrictions. Hutchinson signed into law a bill barring transgender athletes from competing on sports teams matching their gender identity. And he approves of a measure banning transgender minors from undergoing a sex change surgery.

Hutchinson said there are other bills headed to his desk that also cause him some consternation. Although he didn't specify which, he again called on Republicans to consider a more limited role when it comes to personal health care decisions.

"Let's give some more deference to the medical professionals," he said.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Vanessa Romo is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers breaking news on a wide range of topics, weighing in daily on everything from immigration and the treatment of migrant children, to a war-crimes trial where a witness claimed he was the actual killer, to an alleged sex cult. She has also covered the occasional cat-clinging-to-the-hood-of-a-car story.