After becoming the first state to ban gender-affirming care for minors, the Arkansas legislature has now passed a bill targeting doctors. On March 13, Gov Sarah Huckabee Sanders signed a bill into law that makes it easier to sue providers over gender-affirming treatment.
In 2021, Arkansas legislators passed the first gender-affirming care ban in the nation, overriding the veto from then-governor Asa Hutchinson. The bill prohibits puberty blockers, hormone therapy and surgery—even though there is no record of any minor in the state receiving gender-affirming surgery and the bill makes an exception for non-consensual surgeries performed on intersex infants.
ACLU Arkansas sued the state, representing four trans youth who were receiving care. In August 2021, a US District Court issued an injunction, suspending the enforcement of the law until a ruling is reached.
Now the Arkansas legislature seems to have found a way around the injunction. Gov Huckabee Sanders signed SB 199 into law, which gives patients who receive gender-affirming care up to 15 years to sue their provider for malpractice after turning 18. Two years is the standard limit for malpractice lawsuits. Although (as the bill acknowledges) the detransition rate has been estimated at less than 2%, SB 199 will make it “nearly impossible” for gender-affirming care providers to secure malpractice insurance, according to legal experts speaking to the Associated Press.
“Arkansas infamously passed the first law in the nation to try to ban gender-affirming care for trans youth and after hearing extensive evidence, the courts have blocked that ban,” said Holly Dickson, executive director for ACLU Arkansas. “This bill is an effort to achieve indirectly what the Constitution prohibits the state from doing directly.”
“It’s outrageous that politicians who lack even the most basic medical training are now legislating their personal beliefs onto the people they are supposed to serve,” the HRC added in a statement.
“Decisions about what age-appropriate, best practice medical care – care that is supported by every major medical association including the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics – is appropriate for a specific transgender youth should be left up to that individual with their family and their doctors. All patients should have access to factual information rather than political propaganda about their care options.”
The legislation will not go into effect until 90 days after the legislature adjourns in April. In the meantime, Arkansas is considering multiple other anti-LGBTQ+ laws, including an anti-trans bathroom bill and an anti-drag bill.