Politics & Policy

Asa Hutchinson’s Foolish Mistake

Asa Hutchinson at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., April 2, 2013. (Gary Cameron/Reuters)

Yesterday, by a 72–25 vote in the house and a 25–8 vote in its senate, the Arkansas state legislature overrode Governor Asa Hutchinson’s veto and passed HB1570, the Save Adolescents From Experimentation (SAFE) Act. The bill bans the use of drugs and surgeries on children as part of “gender reassignment” therapy, a euphemism to describe the abusive prescription of hormonal drugs by gender clinicians, and the mutilation of healthy sexual organs and their replacement with nonfunctioning facsimiles by surgeons. This is the right decision, and every state should follow Arkansas’ example.

Hutchinson went on Tucker Carlson Tonight to explain his veto, in a segment that ended badly for him. When Carlson pressed the Arkansas Republican on studies showing the damage these “therapies” do to young people, Hutchinson waved these away, citing the opinions of unnamed doctors he’d talked with. The governor invoked the cause of “limited government” as his rationale for vetoing this bill. Carlson correctly pointed out that governments frequently intervene to protect children from harmful behavior — whether smoking cigarettes, getting tattoos, or marrying. Why should quack therapies then be a matter of freedom for minors?

Hutchinson had no good answer, although at one point he said that he wanted to “broaden the party.” This absurd reply naturally occasions another question: How many people will stay in your big-tent party when you can’t be bothered to defend minors from irreparable harm?

Hutchinson invoked the names of President Ronald Reagan and William F. Buckley Jr., the founder of this magazine, to buttress his points. By doing so, he only proved that a man of authority who will not stop the abuse of children will not stop at abuse of the dead, either.

A raft of studies and books, such as Abigail Shrier’s Irreversible Damage, show that these experimental hormone therapies and surgeries do more physical and psychological damage to those suffering gender dysphoria, and they increase rates of suicide among people who identify as transgender.

These so-called therapies are driven, at bottom, by psychological, sociological, and anthropological superstitions. These include a belief in a “true identity,” hidden in the psyche or the will, that is at odds with our given biology. Or the assertion that, because cultures and history shape how men and women interact and behave, human nature is essentially plastic and can be remade at will.

Taken together these delusions impose on humans a burden of self-creation that is beyond not only adolescents and children but, ultimately, human nature itself. The task for conservatism is not just the restoration of common sense about the natural world, but common gratitude for how its limits shape and give meaning to our lives, even among those who struggle to accept them.

Arkansas’ SAFE Act bans people from selling the drugs and procedures that would disfigure children. Counter to Asa Hutchinson, if ever there was a proper role for government, this is it.

The Editors comprise the senior editorial staff of the National Review magazine and website.