By ANDREW DeMILLO
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — The Arkansas House sent the GOP governor a bill Wednesday to make it easier to sue doctors who provide gender-affirming treatment to minors, moving to effectively reinstate the state’s blocked ban on such care.
The office of Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders said she backs the malpractice bill, which overwhelmingly passed the majority-Republican House on a mostly party-line vote.
“The governor has said that she supports bills that protect our kids and will support legislation like this that does just that,” spokeswoman Alexa Henning said in an email. “Only in the far-left’s woke vision of America is it not appropriate to protect children.”
The House-passed bill would allow anyone who received gender-affirming care as a minor to file a malpractice lawsuit against their doctor for up to 15 years after they turn 18. Under current Arkansas law, medical malpractice claims must be filed within two years of what the law refers to as an “injury.”
The proposal is the latest in a growing number of bills targeting transgender people, who also face increasingly hostile rhetoric at statehouses. At least 175 bills targeting trans people have been introduced in statehouses so far this year, the most in a single year, according to the Human Rights Campaign.
“Passing this bill says to one of our most vulnerable communities in the state that we don’t care about you,” Democratic Rep. Tippi McCullough, the House minority leader, said. “It says to trans kids that just because you’re different than us, you don’t deserve to be protected or cared for.”
The measure advanced as a federal judge is considering whether to strike down a state law he’s temporarily blocked that would prohibit doctors from providing gender-affirming hormone therapy or puberty blockers to anyone under 18 — or referring them to other doctors who can provide that care. No gender-affirming surgery is performed on minors in the state.
Health experts have said minors with gender dysphoria who do not receive appropriate care face dramatically increased risk of suicide and serious depression.
Legal experts said that Arkansas’ malpractice proposal, which other states are considering as part of broader bans on transgender care for children, would be a major change for how most malpractice claims are considered. By expanding the liability that doctors face for providing such care, the bill could make it nearly impossible for some providers to get malpractice insurance.
Opponents of the measure called the malpractice provision unconstitutional, saying it discriminates against transgender youth the same way Arkansas’ blocked ban did.
“It is exceedingly likely that the state will yet again lose a case involving our ongoing assault on this tiny, vulnerable group of kids,” Democratic Rep. Ashley Hudson said before the vote.
The House approved the bill on a 76-17 vote, largely along party lines, with one Republican lawmaker voting against the bill. Another GOP lawmaker voted present, which has the same effect as voting against the bill.
Republican Rep. Mary Bentley, House sponsor of the bill, said it “provides much needed safeguards before life-altering medical treatment can begin.”
Other bills advancing through Arkansas’ Legislature include a bill that would criminalize transgender adults using a restroom that matches their gender identity if a minor is present.
Arkansas was the first state to enact a ban on gender-affirming care for children with its 2021 law, and several states since then have followed suit. Another ban in Alabama has also been blocked temporarily by a federal judge. Nearly every major medical group, including the American Medical Association, has opposed such bans.