Arkansas legislators passed the Save Adolescents From Experimentation (SAFE) Act (Act 626) on March 29 which bans healthcare providers from administering hormone treatments and puberty blockers to individuals under the age of 18. This effectively bans access to healthcare resources from transgender and gender nonconforming adolecents and minors.
The act was sponsored by Arkansas Republican Senator Alan Clark, however the bill was first vetoed by fellow Republican Governor, Asa Hutchinson. The veto was overridden by a 28-7 vote in the state Senate after already being passed by the state house earlier in the month, in an article published in Business Insider.
The official bill states that, “Arkansas has a compelling government interest in protecting the health and safety of its citizens, especially vulnerable children.” The legislation describes how adolescents/minors are not fully developed or psychologically stable enough to make possibly permanent changes to their bodies before the age of 18 and before they stop developing.
I fundamentally disagree. This act shows the government’s role in defining who has the right to healthcare, as well as its efforts to limit healthcare, which is a human right, by limiting coverage and favoring only gender assigned at birth.
Untreated gender dysphoria, “discomfort or distress that is caused by a discrepancy between a person’s gender identity and that person’s sex assigned at birth,” results in severe mental health problems according to an April 2021 piece from Harvard Business Review. Twenty percent of pre-transitioned youth in a study, described in the Harvard Business Review piece, had “moderate to extreme” symptoms of depression and the rate of suicidal thoughts as well as attempts were three times higher than youths who did not struggle to identify with their gender.
On the other hand, according to the Harvard Business Review piece, another longitudinal study that took place in 2014 of trans adolescents before and after they received gender-affirming care found that psychological functioning steadily improved throughout treatment and that overall well-being after treatment was “comparable to [that of] same-age peers.” The study emphasized how youth that have transitioned are better off in terms of their mental and physical health, as well as their social abilities and overall well being.
Access to gender affirming healthcare for trans youth is clearly crucial to the well-being of these individuals. Banning gender affirmative healthcare to trans youth is a violation of human rights. Gender identity is an aspect of human existence that should be determined by an individual, themself and no one else– including the government.
It is crucial moving forward for impacted trans youth and their allies to contact Arkansas Legislators by phone, email and letters to voice concerns surrounding this bill in order to keep the conversation going as well as prevent the implementation of this bill into law.