Act 626 of 2021
aka: Save Adolescents from Experimentation Act
aka: HB 1570
Act 626 of 2021 was the first ever bill passed in the United States to outlaw any gender-affirming medical treatment for persons under eighteen years of age. It became law over the veto of Governor Asa Hutchinson on April 6, 2021, attracting national and international criticism of the Arkansas legislature. Groundbreaking though the bill was, it was but one of many passed during the 2021 Arkansas General Assembly that specifically targeted trans citizens, and Arkansas was one of more than thirty states in 2021 in which Republican Party legislators introduced such bills.
House Bill 1570, dubbed the “Save Adolescents from Experimentation Act,” was written by Representative Robin Lundstrum of Elm Springs (Washington and Benton counties) and introduced into the Arkansas House of Representatives on February 25, 2021. The following reasons were given, according to the text of the bill, for outlawing such medical treatment for minors: “Only a small percentage of the American population experiences distress at identifying with their biological sex” and “Even among people who have undergone inpatient gender reassignment procedures, suicide rates, psychiatric morbidities, and morality rates remain markedly elevated above the background population.” In response, the act outlawed providing “gender transition procedures” (including the prescription of puberty blockers or “cross-sex” hormones) and performing “gender reassignment surgery, as well as referring any patient to another healthcare professional for such matters.”
On March 9, 2021, the bill was approved by the Public Health, Welfare, and Labor Committee. Chairperson Rep. Mary Bentley gave proponents of the legislation a collective forty-five minutes to testify before the committee, while the sixteen opponents who signed up to testify were limited to two minutes each. Supporting the bill, Joseph Backholm of Washington DC, a senior fellow for Biblical Worldview and Strategic Engagement at the Family Research Council, suggested that doctors encouraged gender reassignment as a way to make money. Testimony by actual doctors, however, centered upon the fact that such surgery on minors simply was not done in the state, while other medical interventions, such as medication, were sometimes necessary to preserve the mental health of a patient experiencing gender dysphoria. One witness, Chris Attig (an attorney, former U.S. Army captain, and father of a trans son), was arrested for exceeding his two minutes at the order of Representative Jack Ladyman. The following day, the bill passed the House 70–22 largely on party lines, with eight not voting. The Senate passed the bill, again primarily on party lines, on March 29 by a margin of 28–7, sending it to Governor Hutchinson.
Hutchinson spent several days without publicly stating his intentions one way or another. National medical groups opposed the bill, noting that transgender youth experienced lower rates of suicide if they were permitted access to the necessary treatment, and that youths had been permitted access to such treatments for decades. By this point, Gov. Hutchinson had already signed other bills directed against trans persons, including a ban on transgender athletes from participating in girls’ or women’s sports, as well as the so-called “Medical Ethics and Diversity Act,” which allows healthcare workers and insurance companies to refuse non-emergency medical services to individuals on the basis of the “exercise of the right of conscience.”
In a surprise move, Gov. Hutchinson vetoed HB 1570 on April 5, 2021, while also stating that he fully expected the legislature to override his veto. In a public statement, he said, “I do hope my veto will cause my Republican colleagues across the country to resist the temptation to put the state in the middle of every decision made by parents and healthcare professionals.” The following day, April 6, the legislature, as expected, overrode his veto by a vote of 75–25 in the House and 25–8 in the Senate, a comfortable margin given that Arkansas law allows for the legislative override of a veto with only a majority vote. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) immediately promised to file suit.
That evening, Gov. Hutchinson appeared on Tucker Carlson Tonight, a Fox News talk show, to defend his veto, insisting that no corporations had pressured him to veto the bill. Indeed, no major Arkansas corporations ever publicly opposed the legislation—a stark difference from 2015, when the leadership of several major Arkansas companies, such as Walmart and Acxiom, came out against the so-called “Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” which would have, as originally constituted, permitted businesses to discriminate against particular individuals and groups by reference to their own individual religious beliefs. Hutchinson later reiterated his reasons for vetoing the bill in a column in the Washington Post.
The same day that HB 1570 became law, Republicans in North Carolina followed suit and introduced a bill banning the same medical treatments for people under twenty-one. Alabama had already done so. Later that same month, the Texas state legislature began consideration of a bill that would designate such medical treatment for minors as child abuse.
On May 25, 2021, the ACLU filed its promised suit against the state, seeking to block the implementation of the law, on behalf of a group of families with transgender youth and two doctors and their patients.
For additional information:
Act 626 of 2021. Arkansas State Legislature. https://www.arkleg.state.ar.us/Acts/FTPDocument?path=%2FACTS%2F2021R%2FPublic%2F&file=626.pdf&ddBienniumSession=2021%2F2021R (accessed June 5, 2021).
Ellis, Dale. “ACLU Sues to Block New Transgender Law.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, May 26, 2021, pp. 1A, 4A. Online at https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2021/may/26/aclu-sues-to-block-new-transgender-law/ (accessed June 9, 2021).
Herzog, Rachel, and Michael R. Wickline. “Ban on Kids’ Transgender Care Vetoed.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, April 6, 2021, pp. 1A, 6A. Online at https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2021/apr/06/ban-on-kids-transgender-care-vetoed/ (accessed June 9, 2021).
———. “Transgender-Bill Veto Overridden.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, April 7, 2021, pp. 1A, 5A. Online at https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2021/apr/06/ban-on-kids-transgender-care-vetoed/ (accessed June 9, 2021).
Krotoszynski, Ronald J., Jr. “The War on Trans Kids Is Totally Unconstitutional.” The Atlantic, May 16, 2021. https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2021/05/anti-transgender-children-laws-unconstitutional/618864/ (accessed June 5, 2021).
Scott, Rebekah Hall. “‘Kids Feel Like They’re Being Erased’: Inside the Clinic Targeted by Arkansas’s New Anti-Trans Law.” Arkansas Nonprofit News Network, June 9, 2021. https://arknews.org/index.php/2021/06/09/kids-feel-like-theyre-being-erased-inside-the-clinic-targeted-by-arkansass-new-anti-trans-law/ (accessed June 9, 2021).
VanDerWerff, Emily. “Our Conversation about Anti-Trans Laws Is Broken.” Vox.com, April 2, 2021. https://www.vox.com/identities/22358864/trans-issues-sports-health-care-bills-laws-arkansas-alabama-montana-south-dakota (accessed June 5, 2021).
Vrbin, Tess. “Gender Bill Draws Capitol Protest.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, April 4, 2021, pp. 1B, 4B. Online at https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2021/apr/04/gender-bill-draws-capitol-protest/ (accessed June 9, 2021).
Wickline, Michael R. “Transgender Treatment Ban for Minors Is OK’d.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, March 30, 2021, p. 6A. Online at https://www.nwaonline.com/news/2021/mar/30/transgender-treatment-ban-for-minors-is-okd/ (accessed June 9, 2021).
Wickline, Michael R., and Rachel Herzog. “Transgender Restriction Bills Move Ahead in State.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, March 11, 2021, pp. 1A, 4A. Online at https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2021/mar/11/transgender-restriction-bills-move-ahead-in-state/ (accessed June 9, 2021).
Staff of the CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas
Last Updated: 06/05/2021