Arkansas Lawmakers Interfere in Trans Teens' Medical Choices

A blanket ban on medical procedures for minors is not a prescription for human liberty.


Arkansas lawmakers passed a bill on Monday that would flatly prohibit medical professionals from providing any sort of gender transition treatments to minors.

H.B. 1570, also known as the Save Adolescents from Experimentation (SAFE) Act, forbids the prescribing of puberty blockers to suppress hormones, bans genital reassignment surgeries, and bars any medical treatment that would "alter or remove physical or anatomical characteristics or features for the individual's biological sex" or "instill or create physiological or anatomical characteristics that resemble a sex different from the individual's biological sex."

But if parents and medical professionals together agree on a course of treatment that they all agree is best for an underage patient, who are state lawmakers to tell them otherwise?

H.B. 1570 further forbids medical professionals from referring minors to any doctor who could provide the forbidden treatments. It also says that public funds may not be granted to any entity that provides trans treatments to minors, declares that medical transition treatment procedures are not tax-deductible forms of health care coverage (regardless of age), and prohibits the state's Medicaid program from providing coverage for these treatments for minors. Medical professionals who defy the law could lose their licenses to practice in the state.

The bill passed the state House by a vote of 70-22 earlier this month. It passed the state Senate 28-7 this week. Now it heads to the desk of Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson.

Just as it's wrong for lawmakers to try to destroy school choice and tell parents where and how their children should be educated, it's wrong and presumptuous for elected officials to tell parents how their trans children should be medically treated.

This is no different than earlier fights between elected officials and parents over improper legal prohibitions allegedly enacted in the name of "protecting the children." For example, it was a long, long fight (and it's not actually over) to convince resistant governments that cannabis extracts could help ease potentially deadly seizures in children.

There has been a dramatic increase in recent years in the number of people self-identifying as trans, particularly among younger Americans. The increased acceptance and understanding of both gay and trans people has resulted in LGBT kids coming out at earlier ages and communicating how they feel at much younger ages than previous generations did. A number of those minors have received gender transition treatments.

Because we're talking about children whose minds and bodies are still developing, there is a fear that a certain number of children who say they are trans—or who are diagnosed as trans—will later change their minds. That fear naturally offends trans people who have been treated by some throughout their lives as though their condition isn't "real" and that they are mentally ill.

The sponsors of H.B. 1570 clearly oppose all gender reassignment medical treatments. As the bill asserts:

It is of grave concern to the General Assembly that the medical community is allowing individuals who experience distress at identifying with their biological sex to be subjects of irreversible and drastic nongenital gender reassignment surgery and irreversible, permanently sterilizing genital gender reassignment surgery, despite the lack of studies showing that the benefits of such extreme interventions outweigh the risks; and

The risks of gender transition procedures far outweigh any benefit at this stage of clinical study on these procedures.

Some medical experts disagree, however, and spoke out against the bill. Lee Beers, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, described H.B. 1570 as "discrimination by legislation."

"This is about protecting minors," argued one of the bill's sponsors, Rep. Robin Lundstrum (R–Springdale). "Many of you, I would hazard to guess, did things under 18 that you probably shouldn't have done….Why would we ever even consider allowing a sex change for a minor?"

But who is the "we" here? It's clearly not the parents of the patient, who would otherwise consent to the procedure. Nor is it the medical professionals who deem such procedures to be in their patients' best interests. The "we" is a pack of elected officials pushing their own agenda.

Lundstrum has no idea how to medically treat a trans kid. But she sure knows how to fight a culture war. In addition to H.B. 1570, she has also co-sponsored legislation mandating that schools play the "Star-Spangled Banner" as well as a bill that seeks to make it harder for women to get abortions. Oh, and she's clearly not a fan of greater choice in politics, having sponsored a bill that would make it harder for third-party candidates to qualify for the ballot for presidential races.

Lundstrum is entitled to her own opinion about trans kids. But she has no business using government power to force her views on parents seeking to make informed medical decisions for their own families.