Asa Hutchinson on spot with Arkansas poised to enact first youth gender-transition ban

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No sooner had Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed one transgender-related bill than a second one landed on his desk.

After approving a bill last week banning transgender athletes from female sports, the Republican governor now is considering House Bill 1570, which would bar doctors from offering puberty-blocking drugs, cross-sex hormones and gender-altering surgeries to patients 18 and under.

Arkansas would become the first state with such a law if the bill is signed, a milestone in what the Human Rights Campaign described as “a record-setting anti-transgender legislative session” as red-state lawmakers seek to erect a firewall against President Biden’s progressive gender-identity agenda.

“On the political level, you have the radical Biden administration with not just the Equality Act, but the executive order he issued on the first day creating a national transgender policy,” said Emilie Kao, director of the Heritage Foundation DeVos Center for Religion & Civil Society.

“There’s this concern in these states that their kids are going to be affected by Biden’s actions, and they want to protect them.”

Mr. Hutchinson has not said whether he will sign the bill. He has five days to act after it reaches his desk.

“The Governor will review the bill more closely, listen to the debate, study it and make a decision on the legislation,” said Hutchinson spokesperson Katie Beck in an email.

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) counts 82 bills introduced so far, surpassing the 79 bills brought in the 2020 legislative session, and drew a contrast with “the Biden administration championing equality in early Executive Actions and Congress considering the Equality Act within the first 100 days of the new Administration.”

“The furious pace of these bills shows that hateful anti-equality groups across the country and extremist legislators alike realize that equality is gaining momentum,” HRC President Alphonso David said in a statement. “This is their shameful attempt to throw a wrench into the progress we have steadily made in the fight for equality.”

More than two dozen states have introduced this year women’s sports bills, and two — Arkansas and Mississippi — have signed them into law. Another six states — Alabama, Kansas, North Dakota, Montana, New Jersey and West Virginia — have passed the measure in one chamber, according to Save Women’s Sports.

Idaho became the first state to ban transgender participation in female athletics with its 2020 law, which was stayed by a court pending the outcome of a lawsuit.

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem vetoed her state’s bill Monday but promptly followed up with an executive order requiring K-12 athletes to compete based on their biological sex at birth. The order does not apply to collegiate athletics.

The American Civil Liberties Union and LGBTQ advocates are urging Mr. Hutchinson to veto HB 1570, but even if he does, other proposals are looming.

Bills modeled on the Save Adolescents from Experimentation [SAFE] Act have been introduced in a dozen states, advancing in Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee, according to the National Center for Transgender Equality bill-tracker.

Chase Strangio, deputy director for transgender justice with the American Civil Liberties Union’s LGBT & HIV Project, said in a Monday press call that “we will absolutely sue you if this bill passes.”

“Alabama could be set to vote this week on a bill that like HB 1570 would bar health care for trans young people,” Mr. Strangio said. “The state of Tennessee is also considering a similar bill, but the majority of these bills have died, the ones targeting healthcare for trans youth.

Lawmakers have recognized that they will have blood on their hands if these bills pass. It is as simple as that.”

Critics say it’s not that simple. Conservative groups have raised alarm for years about the rise of pediatric gender clinics that prescribe puberty-blocking drugs and cross-sex hormones in keeping with the “gender-affirmative care” model recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

“There is a growing and urgent need for this legislation as harmful gender ideology sweeps across our nation, leaving children vulnerable to life-altering procedures such as puberty-blocking drugs, cross-sex hormones, and irreversible surgeries,” Family Research Council President Tony Perkins said in an statement.

Mr. Perkins urged Mr. Hutchinson to “sign the SAFE Act and protect vulnerable children from experimental procedures that cause physiological trauma for those dealing with gender dysphoria.”

Since Boston Children’s Hospital opened the first U.S. gender pediatric program in 2007, the number of such clinics has grown to 45, Ryan T. Anderson, author of “When Harry Became Sally,” said at a 2019 Heritage forum on the issue.

“Transition affirming therapies are virtually untested and inflict lasting harm,” said Mr. Anderson, now president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center. “Parents are frequently pressured into accepting these treatments on behalf of their children, blurring the line between informed consent and coercion.”

Both sides back up their positions by citing the suicide dangers. Dr. Lee Beers, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), said that even before the pandemic, “transgender youth have statistically higher rates of suicide and ideation. About half of transgender youth consider suicide and a third attempt it.”

The AAP has come out against HB 1570, and other leading medical organizations have opposed similar measures.

“With alarm and dismay, pediatricians have watched bills like HB 1570 advance through state legislatures across the country,” Dr. Beers said. “This bill is harmful in two ways: One, it threatens the health and well-being of transgender youth, and two, it puts politicians rather than pediatricians in charge of a child’s medical care.”

The bill’s supporters argue that gender-transition procedures are part of the problem when it comes to suicide, not the solution.

“Parents are told that puberty-blocking drugs and cross-sex hormones may be the only way to prevent their children from committing suicide,” Mr. Anderson said. “Never mind that the best studies show that between 80-95% of children who express a discordant identity will come to identify with their bodily sex if natural development is not interfered with. Never mind that 41% of adults who identify as transgender attempt suicide at some point in their lives.”

The state bills differ in terms of punishment. Doctors who violate the Arkansas legislation by providing or referring minors for gender-transition treatment face licensing sanctions, civil action and lawsuits from patients, while the Alabama bill includes criminal penalties.

“Either way, by passing a law like this, doctors will be forced to stop providing care that is saving kids’ lives,” Mr. Strangio said.

In addition to filing lawsuits, foes of the bills have warned that states could be hit with an economic boycott such as the one levied in 2016 against North Carolina over its “bathroom bill.”

“States that pass anti-transgender legislation suffer economic, legal, reputational harm,” Mr. David said.

While most of the support for such legislation comes from the Republican side of the aisle, the South Carolina bill was introduced by state Rep. Cezar E. McKnight, a Democrat.

“H Bill 4047 does not discriminate against anyone,” Mr. McKnight tweeted on March 19. “It requires a person to be at least 18 years old before being able to undergo transgender procedures. You have to be 18 to get a tattoo. Surely you need to be an adult to change your gender?”

On his first day in office, Mr. Biden signed an executive order to enforce prohibitions against discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation, instructing federal agencies to review policies and regulations to ensure compliance.

He also has said he would sign the Equality Act, which would bar discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation. The bill, which has passed the House, exempts itself from the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

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