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Opinion Why I vetoed my party’s bill restricting health care for transgender youth

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) speaks at a news conference in Little Rock in 2020.
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) speaks at a news conference in Little Rock in 2020. (Staton Breidenthal/AP)
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Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, is the governor of Arkansas.

For over 40 years, I have been fighting to build the Republican Party by advancing the principles of limited government and individual liberty. Thanks to that focus, the GOP has become the majority party in Arkansas. Now, I am being attacked by some of my Republican colleagues for not being pure enough on social issues and for vetoing a bill that limited access to health care for transgender youth.

Make no mistake: I am pro-life. I believe there are some issues where the stakes are so high that government must play a role in private life. I have fought my share of battles in defending the role of faith in our society. At the same time, while governor, I have lowered taxes, balanced the budget and defended the Second Amendment. Yet the reaction of some of my conservative friends now makes me wish they would remember President Ronald Reagan’s admonition that if someone agrees with you 80 percent of the time then they are your friend and ally — not the enemy.

I vetoed this bill because it creates new standards of legislative interference with physicians and parents as they deal with some of the most complex and sensitive matters concerning our youths.

It is undisputed that the number of minors who struggle with gender incongruity or gender dysphoria is extremely small. But they, too, deserve the guiding hand of their parents and the counseling of medical specialists in making the best decisions for their individual needs. 

H.B. 1570 puts the state as the definitive oracle of medical care, overriding parents, patients and health-care experts. While in some instances the state must act to protect life, the state should not presume to jump into the middle of every medical, human and ethical issue. This would be — and is — a vast government overreach.

Leadership is acting not just on your convictions but also on your compassion. Parents are doing their best to guide the young person God entrusted to them. As they seek medical help, it is important to understand the trauma, emotional challenge and love involved in making difficult decisions. The leading Arkansas medical associations, the American Academy of Pediatrics and medical experts across the country all oppose this law. Their concern is that denying best practice medical care to transgender youth can lead to significant harm to the young person — from suicidal tendencies and social isolation to increased drug use. Given these risks, we have to ask whether the state action helps or unjustifiably interferes. 

In Arkansas, gender reassignment surgery is not performed on anyone under 18. If H.B. 1570 simply prohibited gender reassignment surgeries for minors, reaffirming the present state of affairs, then I would have signed the bill. 

Instead, it is overbroad and extreme, and does not grandfather in those young people who are currently under hormone treatment. The young people who are currently under a doctor’s care will be left without treatment when this law goes into effect. 

They may look to the black market for their medications or travel out of state for care if they can afford to do so. This is not the right path to put them and their families on.

As I expected, the Arkansas General Assembly overrode my veto. But I acted on my convictions and based on what I learned in discussions with families, health-care professionals, faith leaders and transgender individuals. Of course, I listened to the thinking of legislators and followed the debate in the General Assembly. I came to the conclusion that this is a time to show compassion and to resist the temptation to severely restrict private family health-care decisions.

I am also hopeful that my action will cause conservative Republican legislators to think through these issues again, and hopefully come up with a more measured approach that allows a thoughtful study of the science and ethics surrounding health care for children and teenagers who experience gender dysphoria before acting. Government, under a conservative philosophy, should be restrained. This is an example of where that approach is better than overbroad actions that interfere with important relationships in our society.

If we are going to be a party of a restrained and limited government, then we actually have to practice those values at some point. If Democrats won’t, I hope Republicans, at least, can resist the constant pressure from activists to use government as a means to change the culture. We must remind ourselves that a change in society is led from the heart, the church and from a greater understanding of each individual that forms the fabric of this great nation.

Read more:

Read a letter responding to this opinion piece: Privacy at all levels of health care is essential

The Post’s View: Arkansas becomes the country’s chief anti-trans bully

Paul Waldman: The Republican Party’s loathsome new war on trans kids

Alyssa Rosenberg: North Carolina’s bill regulating gender would be terrible for kids — not just trans ones

Megan Rapinoe: Bills to ban transgender kids from sports try to solve a problem that doesn’t exist

Tey Meadow: Restricting care for transgender teens would be a terrible mistake