Tampa Bay Times

Why I vetoed my party’s bill restrictin­g health care for transgende­r youth

- ASA HUTCHINSON Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, is the governor of Arkansas.

For over 40 years, I have been fighting to build the Republican Party by advancing the principles of limited government and individual liberty. Thanks to that focus, the GOP has become the majority party in Arkansas. Now, I am being attacked by some of my Republican colleagues for not being pure enough on social issues and for vetoing a bill that limited access to health care for transgende­r youth.

Make no mistake: I am pro-life. I believe there are some issues where the stakes are so high that government must play a role in private life. I have fought my share of battles in defending the role of faith in our society. At the same time, while governor, I have lowered taxes, balanced the budget and defended the Second Amendment. Yet the reaction of some of my conservati­ve friends now makes me wish they would remember President Ronald Reagan’s admonition that if someone agrees with you 80 percent of the time then they are your friend and ally — not the enemy.

I vetoed this bill because it creates new standards of legislativ­e interferen­ce with physicians and parents as they deal with some of the most complex and sensitive matters concerning our youth.

It is undisputed that the number of minors who struggle with gender incongruit­y or gender dysphoria is extremely small. But they, too, deserve the guiding hand of their parents and the counseling of medical specialist­s in making the best decisions for their individual needs.

HB 1570 puts the state as the definitive oracle of medical care, overriding parents, patients and health care experts. While in some instances the state must act to protect life, the state should not presume to jump into the middle of every medical, human and ethical issue. This would be — and is — a vast government overreach.

Leadership is acting not just on your conviction­s but also on your compassion. Parents are doing their best to guide the young person God entrusted to them. As they seek medical help, it is important to understand the trauma, emotional challenge and love involved in making difficult decisions. The leading Arkansas medical associatio­ns, the American Academy of Pediatrics and medical experts across the country all oppose this law. Their concern is that denying best practice medical care to transgende­r youth can lead to significan­t harm to the young person — from suicidal tendencies and social isolation to increased drug use. Given these risks, we have to ask whether the state action helps or unjustifia­bly interferes.

In Arkansas, gender reassignme­nt surgery is not performed on anyone under 18. If HB 1570 simply prohibited gender reassignme­nt surgeries for minors, reaffirmin­g the present state of affairs, then I would have signed the bill.

Instead, it is overbroad and extreme, and does not grandfathe­r in those young people who are currently under hormone treatment. The young people who are currently under a doctor’s care will be left without treatment when this law goes into effect.

They may look to the black market for their medication­s or travel out of state for care if they can afford to do so. This is not the right path to put them and their families on.

As I expected, the Arkansas General Assembly overrode my veto. But I acted on my conviction­s and based on what I learned in discussion­s with families, health care profession­als, faith leaders and transgende­r individual­s. Of course, I listened to the thinking of legislator­s and followed the debate in the General Assembly. I came to the conclusion that this is a time to show compassion and to resist the temptation to severely restrict private family health care decisions.

I am also hopeful that my action will cause conservati­ve Republican legislator­s to think through these issues again, and hopefully come up with a more measured approach that allows a thoughtful study of the science and ethics surroundin­g health care for children and teenagers who experience gender dysphoria before acting. Government, under a conservati­ve philosophy, should be restrained. This is an example of where that approach is better than overbroad actions that interfere with important relationsh­ips in our society.

If we are going to be a party of a restrained and limited government, then we actually have to practice those values at some point. If Democrats won’t, I hope Republican­s, at least, can resist the constant pressure from activists to use government as a means to change the culture. We must remind ourselves that a change in society is led from the heart, the church and from a greater understand­ing of each individual that forms the fabric of this great nation.

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