By Daniel Trotta
March 29 (Reuters) - Arkansas lawmakers passed a measure on Monday that could make the state the first in the country to prevent doctors from providing certain types of care to transgender youth, part of a wave of U.S legislation that would restrict transgender rights.
The Arkansas legislation threatens any healthcare professional who provides puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones or gender-affirming surgery to minors with losing their medical license and opens them up to lawsuits from patients who later regret their procedures.
Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, has declined to say whether he would sign the bill into law.
"The governor will review the bill more closely, listen to the debate, study it and make a decision on the legislation," his spokesperson Katie Beck said in an email.
Sixteen other states are considering similar bills. Civil rights organizations have said they are likely to sue to stop any such bills that are enacted.
On Friday, Hutchinson signed another bill opposed by transgender advocates, which would ban transgender women and girls from playing female sports.
Republicans across the country have introduced a record 127 bills on transgender issues in 22 states this year, according to the Human Rights Campaign, the largest LGBTQ organization in the United States.
Like Arkansas, Mississippi also enacted a law this month that bans athletes who were designated male at birth from playing women's or girls sports at public schools or universities. Idaho passed one last year that was blocked by a federal court.
Proponents of the medical legislation say they want to protect children from irreversible procedures they could later regret.
"They're not mature enough to make those kinds of decisions," said Tennessee state Representative John Ragan, the lead sponsor of a bill that would ban most transgender treatment for minors unless it has the consent of three physicians.
Transgender advocates see the proposals as a political ploy to whip up right-wing outrage. They contend the measures are unconstitutional, defy the best medical science and rely on outdated stereotypes.
"As a trans person, as a parent, I can't stress enough how devastating the consequences would be," Chase Strangio, deputy director for transgender justice at the American Civil Liberties Union, told a news conference on Monday.
The American Academy of Pediatrics, which represents 67,000 pediatricians, was among several medical organizations to oppose the Arkansas bill, saying it would cut off trans kids from needed medical care and needlessly increase their already high risk of suicide.
Both sides accuse their opponents of promoting junk science and ignoring common sense.
Transgender advocates backing gender-affirming care say each step is undertaken with the consultation of doctors, therapists and social workers.
Not all teenagers who question their gender identity decide to go through with transition.
But those who consistently identify as transgender can be prescribed puberty blockers. Others graduate to cross-sex hormone therapy, a more serious commitment to transitioning. A small number opt for some type of surgery with parental consent, but experts say those cases for minors are rare.
"There's a misperception that we automatically set them on this path from puberty blockers to hormones to surgery. These are very considered decisions. The process can occur over years before surgery is considered," said Dr. Loren Schechter, a plastic surgeon specializing in gender confirmation surgery.
One Arkansas mother who opposed the bill said her 15-year-old transgender son went through six months of therapy and doctors' visits before beginning hormone therapy.
"Dylan is happy, healthy, confident and hopeful for his future," Joanna Brandt told the ACLU news conference.
But proponents of the laws say children under 18 should be prevented from receiving any such treatments, accusing transgender advocates of minimizing the side effects and downplaying cases where transgender people regret having made the transition.
The socially conservative American College of Pediatricians, which represents 600 physicians and healthcare professionals, has come out in favor of the legislation, saying affirming gender discordance too early will push young people to transition.
(Reporting by Daniel Trotta Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Jonathan Oatis)