The 93rd General Assembly of the Arkansas State Legislature has been no stranger to controversial bill proposals this spring. An outright near-total abortion ban, a stand-your-ground law and a law which bars transgender women from competing alongside other women in school sports are just a few of several pieces of legislation that have passed one or both chambers of the state legislature to much pushback from lobbying and advocacy groups this session. And on Monday, the legislature signaled its intent to keep up the pace of divisive legislation with the state senate’s passage of House Bill (HB) 1570.
HB1570, or the “Save Adolescents from Experimentation Act (SAFE),” aims to bar health care professionals from providing gender transition medical procedures and surgeries to Arkansas transgender children under the age of 18. Procedures and surgeries outlawed for minors in HB1570 include gender reassignment surgery and the use of cross-sex hormones like testosterone and estrogen. Additionally, the bill also bars the use of state funds for gender transition health care for minors and allows insurance companies to deny coverage for gender transition procedures and surgeries for transgender Arkansans of any age.
Advocates for HB1570, including bill cosponsor State Sen. Alan Clark, say the bill protects children.
“[HB1570] protects children from making mistakes that they will have a very difficult time coming back from,” Clark said, referencing gender transition surgeries and procedures as “mistakes” on the floor of the state senate on Monday.
Critics of HB1570 in the state senate pushed back on the bill on multiple fronts. State Sen. Linda Chesterfield questioned Clark on the ethics of taking the decision-making process away from Arkansas parents, while State Sen. Greg Leding pleaded with the legislature to take more time to consider the bill’s impact on transgender youth around the state. State Sen. Clarke Tucker, as he has with other controversial legislation this session, cited his belief that HB1570 would be struck down in any potential court battle following the bill’s passage.
“We have to be aware of the message that is sent when we pass a piece of legislation like this,” Tucker said. “Whatever [HB1570’s] intent, elsewhere in the country it is portrayed as a message of discrimination.”
State Sen. Jason Rapert spoke in favor of HB1570 and described it as “common sense.”
“We ought to vote for [HB1570] and show [people] that somebody still knows common sense,” Rapert said.
In the ensuing vote which followed Monday’s debate, the state senate passed HB1570 by a 28-7 vote along mostly party lines. State Sen. Jim Hendren, an independent, voted against the bill with the senate’s other democrats, while State Sen. Larry Teague, a democrat, voted with the chamber’s republicans in favor.
As the bill heads to Gov. Asa Hutchinson for his signature, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Arkansas Executive Director Holly Dickson released a statement criticizing HB1570’s passage.
“Medical decisions belong to trans youth, their parents, and their doctor – not the government,” Dickson said. “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. What could possibly be more cruel than trying to take away a child’s access to the care that could save their life?”
The governor has yet to offer a suggestion of his willingness to sign HB1570, but he previously signed SB354, a bill which limits transgender women from competing alongside other women in school sports.