Arkansas passed a restrictive bill prohibiting doctors from providing gender-affirming health care to transgender children on Monday, despite warnings from major medical groups that it would hurt the young community.
The bill, which bans doctors from prescribing hormone therapies or puberty blockers to transgender kids, performing transition surgeries or referring them to other doctors, passed overwhelmingly in the Arkansas legislature by a vote of 28 to 7.
It's Arkansas' second bill in the last week that will restrict the rights of transgender youth once Gov. Asa Hutchinson signs it into law, as he is expected to. On Friday, he signed a bill that prohibits transgender girls from participating on sports teams that match their gender identity, including extracurricular and elementary, middle or high school teams. Mississippi and Tennessee have also enacted similar laws.
Republican state Sen. Alan Clark, one of the sponsors of the bill, which is called the Save Adolescents from Experimentation (SAFE) Act, said ahead of the vote that gender-affirming treatments are "at best experimental and at worse a serious threat to a child's welfare," the Washington Post reported.
Major medical groups, however, have said that this bill is "harmful" to transgender children who are already at a high risk of suicide and will now be unable to seek health care that will affirm their gender identity. The president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, Lee Beers, said that the bill is "discrimination by legislation."
"This bill is harmful in two ways," Beers said. "One, it threatens the health and well-being of transgender youth, and two, it puts politicians rather than pediatricians in charge of a child's medical care."
Under the bill, doctors who provide any of these treatments could lose their license. It also bans state-owned facilities from performing these treatments, restricts public funds from going to organizations that offer them and stops Arkansas' Medicaid from covering any gender-affirming medications or procedures.
Health groups say that the lawmakers are misinterpreting how these treatments are used in transgender youth. Puberty blockers are a way to temporarily halt the puberty process and can be reversed, and the more-permanent hormone therapies are not typically prescribed until the later teenage years. Gender-affirming surgeries, meanwhile, are not recommended for adolescents under medical guidelines and doctors are already not supposed to perform them on people under 18 years old.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas said that if Hutchinson signs the bill into law, they will sue the state.
"Medical decisions belong to trans youth, their parents, and their doctor – not the government," Holly Dickson, executive director of ACLU of Arkansas, said in a statement shared with PEOPLE. "This bill flies in the face of common decency, basic human rights, and the advice of every major medical association – not to mention federal law. What could possibly be more cruel than trying to take away a child's access to the care that could save their life?
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