Governor Vetoes Bill Impacting Transgender Youth

The legislation banned gender reassignment surgeries for Arkansas minors.

Trans Bill Veto

Gov. Asa Hutchinson has vetoed House Bill 1570 which would ban transgender youth from receiving gender confirming surgery or treatment. The recent action of the General Assembly “while well-intended, is off course” Hutchinson said during a news conference yesterday.

“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,” he said.

If HB 1570, known as the Save Adolescents From Experimentation (SAFE) Act, simply prohibited gender reassignment surgeries, Hutchinson said he would sign it. 

“But the bill is overbroad, extreme and does not grandfather those young people who are currently under hormone treatment,” he said.  

Sponsor Sen. Alan Clark, R-Lonsdale, said he was “shocked and disappointed” by the governor’s decision. Rep. Robin Lundstrum, a Republican from Springdale and lead sponsor of the bill, also expressed her disappointment to reporters and said the bill is “very tightly crafted” and “doesn’t go into other lanes.”

“What it does do is protect children from sex change procedures and only those procedures that are chemical and surgical, nothing else,” Lundstrum said. “It still allows for health care and it still allows for counseling, which is incredibly important.”

While the governor has vetoed HB 1570, he has signed two other bills into law this session that could impact transgender Arkansans. The Fairness in Women’s Sports Act bans transgender girls and women from competing on school sports teams consistent with their gender identity. 

The Medical Ethics and Diversity Act gives health care workers the right to not participate in medical procedures due to religious or moral objections. Opponents like the Human Rights Campaign argued the bill could have a negative impact on LGBTQ patients. Upon signing the bill into law, Gov. Hutchinson said in a statement that he supported the measure “so long as emergency care is exempted and conscience objection cannot be used to deny general health service to any class of people.” 

Although the governor has vetoed HB 1570, the Arkansas Legislature can override it with a simple majority. In a statement, Family Council president Jerry Cox urged legislators to do so.

“Medical researchers do not know the long-term effects these procedures can have on kids. That is why many people equate them with experimenting on children,” Cox said. “Arkansas must protect its children from these sex-reassignment procedures.”

HB 1570 received 70 votes in the House and 28 in the Senate. Because of that support, Hutchinson expects his veto will be overridden. However, the governor said he is hopeful his action will prompt conservative Republicans to develop a “more restrained approach.”

“Government under a conservative philosophy should be restrained,” Hutchinson said. “This is an example of where restraint is better than overbroad actions that interfere with important relationships in our society.”

Rep. Lundstrum said the Arkansas Legislature should seek to overturn the governor’s veto, but she doesn’t know when lawmakers will take action.

Antoinette Grajeda
Antoinette Grajeda

Antoinette Grajeda is an Arkansas-based journalist. She has covered race, culture, politics, health, education and the arts for NPR affiliates as well as print and digital publications since 2007.