Arkansas malpractice bill restricts trans youth medical care

Feb 13, 2023, 1:13 AM | Updated: 4:51 pm
Republican Sen. Gary Stubblefield testifies to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Monday, Feb. 13, 202...

Republican Sen. Gary Stubblefield testifies to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Monday, Feb. 13, 2023, in Little Rock, Ark., about his proposal to make it easier to file medical malpractice claims against doctors who provide gender-affirming care to minors. The proposal is an effort to effectively reinstate a ban on gender-affirming care for minors that's been temporarily blocked by a federal judge. (AP Photo/Andrew DeMillo)

(AP Photo/Andrew DeMillo)

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Nearly two years after Arkansas became the first state to enact a now-blocked ban on gender-affirming care for minors, Republican lawmakers are trying to effectively reinstate the ban with a proposal Monday to make it easier to file malpractice lawsuits against doctors who provide such care.

The proposal, which has been endorsed by a Senate committee, would allow someone who received gender-affirming care as a minor to file a malpractice lawsuit against their doctor for up to 30 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 lawmaker behind Arkansas’ legislation, which could go before the Senate as soon as Tuesday, said it’s aimed at forcing medical providers to stop offering gender-affirming care to minors.

“The idea that teenagers, let alone little children, are capable of making such life-altering decisions is not only brand new, but it’s absurd,” Republican Sen. Gary Stubblefield, the measure’s sponsor, said. “A society that allows them to do this is a deeply broken society.”

The ban prohibits doctors from providing gender-confirming 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.

The 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, legal experts said. 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.

“For a doctor complying with the standard of care, they could still be held liable, which would be just a huge departure from the way malpractice works,” said Stacey Lee, professor at law and ethics at the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School and the Bloomberg School of Public Health. “Essentially, what’s happened is politicians have entered into the practice of medicine. It’s almost tantamount to practicing without a medical license.”

The move is another avenue for states to restrict transgender care, which GOP statehouse have targeted with dozens of bills this year. A federal judge who blocked Arkansas’ ban on gender-affirming care for minors is now considering whether to strike down the law as unconstitutional. A similar ban in Alabama has also been temporarily blocked by a federal judge.

A ban on gender-affirming care signed into law by Utah’s governor last month also expands the ability to file malpractice suits against some providers, and a similar provision is included in a ban advancing through Oklahoma’s Legislature.

“We are playing a game of whack-a-mole in trying to stop these horrendous and dangerous attacks on people’s health care,” said Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, counsel and health care strategist for Lambda Legal. “At some point, it needs to stop because the costs are very real.”

Opponents of such treatments argue that minors are too young to make decisions about their gender identities. But the bans are opposed by nearly every major medical organization, including the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics, who say gender-affirming care is safe if properly administered.

During the two-hour hearing Monday on Arkansas’ malpractice proposal, some exchanges drew gasps and jeers in the committee room. At one point, Republican Sen. Matt McKee asked Gwendolyn Herzig, a transgender woman from Little Rock who testified against the ban, about her genitalia.

Herzig called the question “highly inappropriate.”

McKee’s question came after Herzig said that one of the biggest obstacles that transgender people face is a lack of empathy. “Bills like SB199 are designed to hinder, not help, Arkansans,” she said.

The malpractice legislation includes a “safe harbor” provision that would give doctors a defense against malpractice lawsuits over providing gender-affirming care for children, but only if they follow restrictions that experts have said are inconsistent with the standard of care for the treatments. For example, the provision would effectively prevent doctors from administering the care to minors with several conditions, including depression, ADHD or eating disorders.

Health experts have said that minors with gender dysphoria who do not receive appropriate medical care face dramatically increased risk of suicide and serious depression.

“I have yet to see a cardiologist or gastroenterologist who has to fight this hard in order to take care of their patients,” said Dr. Stephanie Ho, a Fayetteville physician who provides hormone therapy to transgender youth.

The current and former medical directors of Arkansas Children’s Hospital’s Gender Spectrum Clinic testified last year that the hospital had changed its policy — and stopped prescribing puberty blockers and hormone therapy to new patients. The clinic’s patients who were already on the medications continue to receive the treatment. The hospital did not respond to a request for comment about the malpractice proposal.

The bill was endorsed as other measures restricting transgender people’s rights have advanced in recent weeks, including another bill prohibiting trans people from using restrooms at public schools that match their gender identity. Another bill in the Legislature that restricted drag shows was scaled back after facing complaints that it was anti-LGBTQ.

Republican Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders has also said an education bill she’s advocating will include a measure similar to Florida’s prohibition against instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade. Critics have called the Florida ban: “Don’t Say Gay” law.

“Every day, when I get off work, I hop online, I look at the recently filed bills to see what horror awaits me today,” said Aaron Jennen, whose 17-year-old daughter Sabrina has been receiving hormone therapy for the past two years and is among the families challenging Arkansas’ ban. “That’s what we do every single day.”

Arkansas’ current and proposed restrictions on trans youth anger Sabrina Jennen, who said they’ve been a factor for her plans after high school of where to go to college.

“They’re just trying to paint an untrue picture about a very vulnerable group of people who are already struggling so much,” she said. “They’re just trying to make it harder for us to just be happy.”


Associated Press writers Sean Murphy in Oklahoma City and Sam Metz in Salt Lake City contributed to this report

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


File - People shop at an Apple store in the Westfield Garden State Plaza mall in Paramus, New Jerse...
Associated Press

A key inflation gauge tracked by the Fed slowed in February

The Federal Reserve's favored inflation gauge slowed sharply last month, an encouraging sign in the Fed's yearlong effort to cool price pressures through steadily higher interest rates.
1 day ago
FILE - The OpenAI logo is seen on a mobile phone in front of a computer screen displaying output fr...
Associated Press

Musk, scientists call for halt to AI race sparked by ChatGPT

Are tech companies moving too fast in rolling out powerful artificial intelligence technology that could one day outsmart humans?
2 days ago
Associated Press

Starbucks leader grilled by Senate over anti-union actions

Longtime Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz faced sharp questioning Wednesday before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee
3 days ago
FILE - The overdose-reversal drug Narcan is displayed during training for employees of the Public H...
Associated Press

FDA approves over-the-counter Narcan; here’s what it means

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday approved selling naloxone without a prescription, the first over-the-counter opioid treatment.
3 days ago
FILE - A Seattle police officer walks past tents used by people experiencing homelessness, March 11...
Associated Press

Seattle, feds seek to end most oversight of city’s police

  SEATTLE (AP) — The U.S. Justice Department and Seattle officials asked a judge Tuesday to end most federal oversight of the city’s police department, saying its sustained, decade-long reform efforts are a model for other cities whose law enforcement agencies face federal civil rights investigations. Seattle has overhauled virtually all aspects of its police […]
4 days ago
capital gains tax budgets...
Associated Press

Washington moves to end child sex abuse lawsuit time limits

People who were sexually abused as children in Washington state may soon be able to bring lawsuits against the state, schools or other institutions for failing to stop the abuse, no matter when it happened.
4 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Compassion International...

Brock Huard and Friends Rally Around The Fight for First Campaign

Professional athletes are teaming up to prevent infant mortality and empower women at risk in communities facing severe poverty.
Emergency Preparedness...

Prepare for the next disaster at the Emergency Preparedness Conference

Being prepared before the next emergency arrives is key to preserving businesses and organizations of many kinds.
SHIBA volunteer...

Volunteer to help people understand their Medicare options!

If you’re retired or getting ready to retire and looking for new ways to stay active, becoming a SHIBA volunteer could be for you!
safety from crime...

As crime increases, our safety measures must too

It's easy to be accused of fearmongering regarding crime, but Seattle residents might have good reason to be concerned for their safety.
Comcast Ready for Business Fund...
Ilona Lohrey | President and CEO, GSBA

GSBA is closing the disparity gap with Ready for Business Fund

GSBA, Comcast, and other partners are working to address disparities in access to financial resources with the Ready for Business fund.

Medicare open enrollment is here and SHIBA can help!

The SHIBA program – part of the Office of the Insurance Commissioner – is ready to help with your Medicare open enrollment decisions.
Arkansas malpractice bill restricts trans youth medical care