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Arkansas Governor Vetoes Bill To Prevent Treatments For Transgender Youths

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The Arkansas Legislature passed a sweeping law to prohibit doctors from treating transgender youth with hormone treatments, puberty blockers or surgery. And today the Republican governor, Asa Hutchinson, surprised many people by vetoing the bill. Jacqueline Froelich from KUAF joins us from Fayetteville to talk about the reasons the governor gave for his decision and what happens next.

Welcome.

JACQUELINE FROELICH, BYLINE: Thank you, Ari, for having me.

SHAPIRO: So what did Governor Hutchinson say about his reason for the veto?

FROELICH: Governor Hutchinson says he's aware the nation is looking at Arkansas as the general assembly passes bills that are a product of what he calls a culture war in America. And if this bill becomes law, it will create new standards of legislation. So this is what he said when he vetoed the bill.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ASA HUTCHINSON: House Bill 1570 would put the state as the definitive oracle of medical care, overriding parents, patients and health care experts.

SHAPIRO: And at what point did he decide to veto? I know he was under a lot of pressure. Can you tell us more about what led up to that?

FROELICH: I queried the governor last Tuesday about his plans for the bill. He said he needed to meet with trans Arkansans, activists, parents, as well as transgender-affirming medical providers before making a decision. And he did that. He has since learned that gender reassignment surgery - what conservative legislators here who support this measure characterize as genital mutilation - he has learned it is not performed on anyone under age 18 in Arkansas. He's learned that trans teens, with parental consent, are provided psychosocial medical support and hormone therapy to help them progress through their transition. He learned we only have a few hundred trans youth in the entire state of Arkansas that this law would affect. The governor has also received hundreds of thousands of communications from across the country asking him to veto the bill. And he says denying medical care to transgender youth will cause harm. And if enacted, the law will penalize medical providers and allow private insurers to refuse to cover gender-affirming care for people of any age.

SHAPIRO: But the legislature could override the veto. How would that happen?

FROELICH: To veto, House Bill 1570 will require at least 51 members of the House and 18 members of the Senate to vote to sustain. We have a majority-Republican legislature, so the ban on gender-affirming medical care for youth is expected to be passed, made into law here. I spoke with Holly Dickson. She's director of the ACLU of Arkansas. She says she's grateful to the governor for his veto. But if enacted by the legislature, sustained by the legislature, it will be deadly for trans kids, she says. She says denying trans people health care because of who they are is wrong and illegal, and she's prepared to challenge the law in court. She says the entire country is watching Arkansas right now.

SHAPIRO: So if a simple majority can override the veto and it is expected to pass and then be challenged in court, where does that leave the state? And what are people in Arkansas saying about this right now?

FROELICH: I've interviewed young, trans activists who are feeling profoundly victimized by Arkansas lawmakers right now. They believe these anti-trans laws have placed targets on their backs. I spoke with the mom of a trans child who says she's going through a grieving process watching these various laws unfold in the general assembly. She says she and her family may have to move to be safe. I spoke with a family practitioner who treats trans kids, who says trans youth in Arkansas will become more at risk for suicide because of this law.

SHAPIRO: That is Jacqueline Froelich of member station KUAF in Fayetteville, Ark.

Thank you.

FROELICH: You're welcome, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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