Arkansas on Tuesday became the first state to ban gender transition procedures for children and teens when its legislature overrode a veto of a bill by the governor, who had rejected the bill one day earlier.
The bill, known as the "Arkansas Save Adolescents from Experimentation (SAFE) Act," became law by passing the state House 71-24 and the Senate, 25-8.
"Our children stand as pawns right now. They're minors and they're children and they need to be protected" from the medical profession, said state Rep. Robin Lundstrum, a bill sponsor. "Even medicine sometimes is wrong. We should never experiment on children. Ever."
Opponents are expected to file suit to try and overturn the new law.
The bill states: "A physician or other healthcare professional shall not provide gender transition procedures to any individual under eighteen (18) years of age." It defines "gender transition procedures" as the use of puberty-blocking drugs, cross-sex hormones, or "genital or nongenital gender reassignment surgery performed for the purpose of assisting an individual with a gender transition." Doctors and other medical personnel who violate the new law could lose their license.
"Arkansas has a compelling government interest in protecting the health and safety of its citizens, especially vulnerable children," the bill's legislative findings say.
GOP Gov. Asa Hutchinson vetoed the bill on Monday. Republicans control the House and Senate.
The bill cites studies that say the majority of gender-nonconforming children "come to identify with their biological sex in adolescence or adulthood, thereby rendering most physiological interventions unnecessary."
The legislative findings criticize the use of cross-sex hormones, saying there have been "no randomized clinical trials" examining "the efficacy or safety" of cross-sex hormones in adults or children "for the purpose of treating such distress or gender transition."
Further, the legislative findings also assert that society's embrace of transgenderism has not benefited those who identify as transgender.
"Even among people who have undergone inpatient gender reassignment procedures, suicide rates, psychiatric morbidities, and mortality rates remain markedly elevated above the background population," the legislative findings say.
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, applauded the legislature for passing the bill. He called it a "victory for children."
"The state of Arkansas has taken the lead in the race to protect children from a political movement that advocates for using off-label drugs and experimental procedures on minors," Perkins said.
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Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.