April 5 (UPI) -- Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Monday vetoed a proposed state law banning access to gender-affirming care such as puberty blockers and hormones to transgender minors.
The Republican governor said he had rejected the bill, approved last month by the GOP-controlled state Legislature, calling it a "product of the cultural war in America" that would interfere with the doctor-patient relationship.
If the bill became law, it would set "new standards of legislative interference with physicians and parents as they deal with some of the most complex and sensitive matters involving young people," Hutchinson told reporters in Little Rock.
Noting opposition to the proposal from several major Arkansas medical associations, the governor said denying care to transgender youth can "lead to significant harm to the young person from suicidal tendencies, social isolation to increased drug use."
The legislation prohibits public funds from being granted to organizations or entities providing gender transition procedures to people younger than 18; bans state-owned facilities from providing transition-related care; and bars the state's Medicaid program from reimbursing or providing coverage of gender-affirming care to minors.
Doctors found in violation of the ban would be subject to having their licenses revoked.
Alabama's Senate and a Tennessee House Committee have passed similar laws introducing criminal penalties to provide gender-affirming care to minors. The Arkansas measure passed the state Senate by a wide margin last week.
Hutchinson last month signed a bill banning transgender women and girls from participating on women's and girls' sports teams, but refused to support the gender-affirming care bill even while acknowledging it is likely to be overridden.
The veto, he said, was partly meant to "cause conservative Republican legislators to think through the issue again, and hopefully come up with a more restrained approach that allows a study of the science and ethics surrounding the issue before acting."
"The Arkansas Legislature needs to step up and override the governor's veto to make sure this good bill becomes law," Arkansas Family Council President Jerry Cox said in a statement. "Gender-reassignment surgeries can leave children sterilized and scarred for life. Medical researchers do not know the long term effects these procedures can have on kids."
"We thank [Hutchinson] for meeting with and listening to the people of Arkansas, and we urge legislators to allow this veto to stand," the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas tweeted.
"This victory belongs to the thousands of Arkansans who spoke out against this discriminatory bill, especially the young people, parents, and pediatricians who never stopped fighting this anti-trans attack," the group said.