An effort to effectively reinstate Arkansas’ blocked ban on gender-affirming care for minors by making it easier to sue doctors who provide such treatments was approved Wednesday by lawmakers.
The bill approved by the House allows someone 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 measure now heads to Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ desk.
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.
Republican Rep. Mary Bentley, the bill’s House sponsor, said the measure “provides much needed safeguards before life-altering medical treatment can begin.”
Legal experts said that 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. 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 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 this year, the most in a single year, according to the Human Rights Campaign.
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.
The majority-Republican House approved the malpractice bill on a mostly party-line vote of 76-17, with one Republican lawmaker voting against the bill. Another GOP lawmaker voted present, which has the same effect as voting against the bill.