Arkansas may have lost its bid for a national championship this week, but conservatives around the country are cheering on the state to become the first in another category: protecting minor children. Monday, after an emotional debate, the state senate voted 27-8 to send the Save Adolescents from Experimentation (SAFE) Act to the governor's desk, where he could make history signing it into law.
If you asked most of these legislators, like state Rep. Robin Lundstrum (R), they didn't set out to be trailblazers. They just wanted to spare kids a lifetime of regret. If our children can't smoke, they can't drink, they can't do drugs, or get tattoos, it only makes sense to her -- and to the majority of Arkansas leaders -- that we also keep them from mutilating and sterilizing their bodies. "This is a very tightly crafted bill that basically says that children under the age of 18 cannot have sex-change surgery or chemical castration," she said on "Washington Watch." Let them get to the age "where they can make adult decisions," she insisted, but until then, the community has to step in and stop them from making a tremendous mistake.
During Monday's vote, her colleague, state Sen. Alan Clark (R) warned that a lot of these treatments "are at best experimental and at worst a serious threat to a child's welfare." This bill would protect children, who, as many experts point out, eventually grow out of the confusion that these hormones and surgery lock them into. "I know that their parents are looking for any kind of answer, and my heart truly goes out to them," he said. "But this is certainly not the answer."
As Robin said, we can and should have compassion, but "this is about protecting minors. And many of you, I would hazard to guess, did things under 18 that you probably shouldn't have done... Why would we ever consider allowing a sex change for a minor?" It's amazing to me, Senator Jason Rapert (R) chimed in that "people get up here and expound on the 14th amendment when it happens to be the same individuals who come up here and tell us that a baby's life is not worth saving. But they will get up here and try to make us feel guilty, for simply stating the obvious and stating what science knows... We ought to vote for this bill and show that somebody still knows common sense."
Democrats tried to explain that children would suffer without access to this radical treatment. But what about the adults who are suffering now because they did transition, Clark asked? He told the story of girls like Keira Bell, who were affirmed all along the way that their decision was the right one. "I should have been challenged on the proposals or the claims that I was making for myself," Keira has said. If she could have talked to 16-year-old self, "I might not necessarily listen at that time. And that's the point," she explains of her lawsuit against the gender clinic and other pushback efforts like this one. "When you are that young, you don't really want to listen. So I think it's up to these institutions [and leaders] to step in and make children reconsider what they're saying, because it's a life-altering path."
"If you want to talk about anecdotal stories," Clark argued, "Those kids matter too. It's easy to just say, 'Oh, I care. I care. But caring... sometimes means saying, 'I love you, but this is not the right thing for minors." "Those kids are precious," Robin agreed. "Some of them may choose to be transgender when they're older... That's their choice. But when they're under 18, they need to grow up first. That's a big decision, there's no going back."
In the end, their colleagues agreed, making a very convincing case (a 97-30 combined vote) for Governor Asa Hutchinson (R) to consider as he weighs his decision. Let's hope he believes, as we do, that gender transition isn't health care. And the government shouldn't force taxpayers to fund it or insurers to cover it -- especially where children are concerned. If you live in Arkansas, email or call Governor Hutchinson at (501) 682-2345 and ask him to sign the SAFE Act into law.