This Arkansas Bill Would Ban Gender-Affirming Medical Care for Trans Youth

SELF – Men’s and Women Health & Fitness

This week legislators in Arkansas passed an extreme bill that would ban gender-affirming health care for transgender youth. The Arkansas bill, HB 1570, is now awaiting the governor’s signature to become law in the state. But advocacy organizations and experts agree that this kind of care is beneficial—even life-saving—for many kids.

The bill, the Arkansas Save Adolescents From Experimentation Act, would prohibit any gender-affirming medical procedures for people under 18 years old. That includes the use of puberty-blocking medications and hormones as well as gender-affirming surgeries. It would also ban any medical professional from referring people under 18 to other professionals for those procedures.

Contrary to what legislators backing these kinds of policies would have you believe, providing this type of care is a best practice medically and can be life-saving for gender-diverse kids. Trans youth and adults have particularly high rates of anxiety, depression, self-harm, eating disorders, and suicide, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says. But providing understanding, nonjudgmental, gender-affirming care can improve young people’s mental health, according to a limited but growing body of evidence, the AAP says.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the Endocrine Society, the Pediatric Endocrine Society, and the World Professional Association for Transgender Health all have guidelines and recommendations for trans peoples’ health care, which, for some people might include medications and/or surgery. Providing options such as puberty-delaying medications, which temporarily prevent the development of secondary sex characteristics (and are regularly used to treat precocious puberty, the Mayo Clinic says), can be one aspect of that care and may reduce the distress that can come with those physical changes. But not every transgender person pursues medical or surgical gender-affirming procedures. 

Ultimately, access to a safe, welcoming, supportive space to talk through those options with a knowledgeable medical professional should simply be part of their routine health care for all trans people—including kids.

“The AAP recommends that youth who identify as transgender have access to comprehensive, gender-affirming, and developmentally appropriate health care that is provided in a safe and inclusive clinical space,” Lee Savio Beers, M.D., FAAP, President of the AAP, said in a statement. “These bills not only ignore these recommendations, they undermine them.”

“This bill is catastrophic. It cuts off trans people from health care that: We need to survive, every major medical association supports, allows us to live as our true and authentic selves,” the American Civil Liberties Union said on Twitter. “Stopping this bill is necessary to defend and protect the lives of trans people. Every trans and non-binary person deserves access to gender-affirming health care, no matter where we live or what type of health insurance we have.”

Just last week, Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson signed into law a bill that will ban trans women and girls from competing on sports teams that align with their gender, NBC News reported. The bill is just one of more than 70 anti-trans pieces of legislation introduced so far this year.

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