“This is a government overreach.”
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson vetoed a bill Monday that would have banned gender-confirming treatments for transgender youths in the state.
During a news conference with reporters, the Republican governor said the intentions behind the state legislature’s “Save Adolescents from Experimentation (SAFE) Act” were “well-intended but off course.”
The act bars doctors from providing gender-affirming health care to transgender minors, including hormones, puberty blockers and transition-related surgeries.
Hutchinson said that he had an issue with the bill that would affect patients who are currently taking treatments and how it would affect the mental health of the state’s youth.
“This is a government overreach,” he said at the news conference. “You are starting to let lawmakers interfere with health care and set a standard for legislation overriding health care. The state should not presume to jump into every ethical health decision.”
LGTBQ rights activists, medical professionals and other groups protested the bills because it was discriminatory and would lead to more severe mental health problems for youths.
The Trevor Project, a nonprofit that focuses on suicide prevention among the LGTBQ community, said half (52%) of transgender and nonbinary youth seriously considered suicide in the past year, compared to 40% of all LGBTQ youth respondents in 2020.
In a statement released Monday afternoon, Sam Brinton, the vice president of advocacy and government affairs for The Trevor Project, called the governor’s veto a “huge victory for the transgender and nonbinary youth of Arkansas,”
“We hope this action sends a message to other lawmakers across the country considering similar bans on gender-affirming medical care, which would only work to endanger young trans lives,” Brinton said in the statement.
Hutchinson said the Republican Arkansas state legislature may override his veto, but he called on state leaders to rethink the issue again before acting.
“Government under a conservative philosophy should be restrained. This is an example where restraint is better than overbroad actions that interfere with important relationships in our society,” Hutchinson told reporters.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas has said it will sue the state if the SAFE Act is passed and urged constituents to call their state leaders.
“This victory belongs to the thousands of Arkansans who spoke out against this discriminatory bill, especially the young people, parents, and pediatricians who never stopped fighting this anti-trans attack,” Holly Dickson, ACLU of Arkansas executive director, said in a statement.
The SAFE Act is one of many state bills introduced this year that LGTBQ advocates say diminish the rights of transgender Americans. Gov. Hutchinson signed two bills during this session that the ACLU of Arkansas said was discriminatory towards gender.
One bill allows medical doctors to refuse nonemergency medical treatment to a patient based on religious or moral objections and the other bans transgender girls from competing on school sports teams consistent with their gender identity.
When asked Monday, if he changed his mind on signing those bills, Hutchinson said the bills were separate issues from the SAFE Act. For the treatment bill, the governor said that the legislation “was consistent with freedom,” while the sports bill addressed issues that “undermined women’s sports.”
ABC News’ Meredith Deliso contributed to this report.