Arkansas Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson went on "Tucker Carlson Tonight" Tuesday evening to defend his veto of a bill that would ban sex-change hormone prescriptions or mutilating surgery for minors.
During the contentious interview with a confrontational Tucker Carlson on Fox News, the governor attempted to portray his position as principled limited-government conservatism, arguing that elected representatives "do not necessarily make the right judgements" for people compared to credentialed doctors or counselors who may support sex-reassignment for transgender youths.
"Do you want to listen to the medical profession? Do you want to listen to professional counselors? Do you want to listen to parents?" Hutchinson asked rhetorically. "Or do you want to leave all these decision to the legislators that come from all different kinds of backgrounds — yes, they are elected to represent you, but they do not necessarily make the right judgements for parents and for doctors in the most sensitive issues."
On Tuesday, the Arkansas legislature overrode Hutchinson's veto of a bill banning transgender surgeries, hormone prescriptions, and puberty blockers for people under age 18, becoming the first state in the nation to enact such a ban into law. The new law also prevents transgender individuals under age 18 from being referred to other medical providers for so-called gender-affirming treatment. Governor Hutchinson, who has an indisputable pro-life record in Arkansas, surprised and angered many social conservatives including Carlson with his veto.
"I think of you as a conservative. Here you have come out publicly as pro-choice on the question of chemical castration of children. What changed?" Carlson asked at the opening of the interview.
Hutchinson retorted that Carlson did not accurately represent the bill, which he called "over-broad" and "extreme."
"If this had been a bill that simply prohibited chemical castration, I would have signed the bill," said Hutchinson.
He added that he also would have signed a bill that was limited to banning sex-reassignment surgery for minors, though no such surgeries are currently performed in Arkansas.
"This is the first law in the nation that invokes the state between medical decisions, parents who consent to that and the decision of the patient. And so, this goes way too far. And in fact, it doesn't even have a grandfather clause that those young people that are under hormonal treatment," Hutchinson argued, noting that there are fewer than 200 minors in Arkansas currently receiving hormone treatments.
The governor said he consulted with doctors and transgender people as well as faith leaders before coming to his decision to veto the legislation. Noting that gender-dysphoric kids are at higher risk for depression and suicide, Hutchinson said, "I don't think we should deny them health care."
Carlson countered by citing preliminary research from the U.K. that, while not conclusive, found that minors who took puberty blockers later reported attempting self-harm or suicide at higher rates.
"Why is that responsible medicine, to do that to children? Why would you support something like that?" Carlson asked.
In response, Hutchinson referred Carlson to the American Academy of Pediatrics and to physicians who opposed the bill, citing their arguments that denying social gender transition or hormone blocking agents to transgender youth could "endanger these young people even further."
He also argued that conservatives should embrace a limited role for government in medical decisions.
"Let me emphasize, Tucker. You are a conservative, you have a great background in that. Where are we getting back to the limited role of government, that we don't have to invoke ourselves in every societal position out there? Let's limit the role of government, let's let parents and doctors make decisions," he said.
To which Carlson replied, "Then why don't we allow 18-year-olds to drink beer in Arkansas? Why don't we allow them to get tattoos? Why don't we allow 15-year-olds to get married?"
He continued: "You vetoed a bill that would've protected children — not adults, children, to whom a different standard applies — from a life-altering, permanent procedure that has effects we can only guess at. ... They're not old enough to have sex, but they're old enough to be chemically castrated? How does that work exactly?"
In answer, Hutchinson made the argument that elected representatives lack the medical expertise to make the right judgement for parents and doctors.
"Then why are we regulating the behavior of children at all!?" exclaimed Carlson.
"Whether it's beer for minors, these are all issues that you have to address [in] the legislature, you make judgement calls on it," Hutchinson responded. "But we also try to restrain ourselves, as conservatives, so that we don't have to be involved in every issue. And if you want to broaden the party, if you want to get back to the principles, then let's at least think through — in a reasoned way — as to whether this is the right bill to interfere with parents and doctors' decisions on a health care matter."