Arkansas Pushback

Will Resistance Rise to Defeat Leftist Storytelling?

Arkansas has become the latest state to protect vulnerable youth from the orthodoxies of the political left.

In a 28-7 vote, the Arkansas legislature approved a law last week banning hormone conversion therapy or sex reassignment surgery for minors. Gov. Asa Hutchinson then vetoed the bill, calling it “vast government overreach,” but his veto was overruled. HB1570, the “Save Adolescents from Experimentation (SAFE) Act,” also includes a ban on puberty-blocking drugs, expressing concern over their efficacy and long-term consequences. “The prescribing of puberty-blocking drugs,” reads the Act, “is being done despite the lack of any long-term longitudinal studies evaluating the risks and benefits of using these drugs for such distress or gender transition.”

Arkansas is not the only state considering such measures. At least 15 others have introduced legislation prohibiting so-called “gender-affirming care.” Even more are concerned about President Biden’s recent Executive Order allowing men to compete in women’s athletics. Over 30 states so far are considering legislation to limit female athletics to biological girls and women.

In the meantime, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem is trying to revive her tarnished conservative image after refusing to sign a bill protecting girls’ and women’s sports. After first expressing enthusiasm for the bill on Twitter, she sent it back to the legislature for a variety of changes that would make it, in effect, toothless. Why the change of heart? Some have accused Noem of caving to corporate interest. Amazon, widely known for its support of transgender ideology and other leftist projects, is planning to build its first corporate fulfillment center in Sioux Falls in 2022.

These state measures and squabbles may seem encouraging to conservatives. Finally, the seeming insanity of gender theory has gone too far. Finally, lawmakers are standing up, refusing to allow mere children to make life-altering decisions about their bodies. But there are also some troubling similarities to another case, one which conservatives lost decades ago—Roe v. Wade. During the fight for Roe, pro-choice activists knew they were fighting an uphill battle. They knew, according to Brian Clowes at Human Life International, that the abortion procedure itself was “unpalatable” to the public, and that the statistics didn’t support the necessity of universal legalization of abortion. So instead, they used emotional appeals, particularly those involving “back alley abortions.” In such stories, supposedly thousands of desperate women died every year at the hand of butchers. To protect these women, Americans needed Roe.

But it wasn’t true. Reformed abortionist Bernard Nathanson, one of the original founders of NARAL Pro-Choice America, once said, “How many deaths were we talking about when abortion was illegal? In NARAL, we always said ‘5,000 to 10,000 deaths a year.’ I confess that I knew the figures were totally false, and I suppose the others did too if they stopped to think of it. But in the ‘morality’ of our revolution, it was a useful figure . . . ” The CDC figures for deaths caused by abortion—legal and illegal—in the years immediately preceding Roe were all less than 100 per year.

But the tactic worked. And since Roe, pro-choice activists have bludgeoned Americans with the rhetoric of rights, lest anyone even think of overturning the legislation. Women need abortion to flourish. It is a woman’s right to express her bodily autonomy by killing her child if she sees fit. And furthermore, goes the familiar arguments, the overwhelming majority of Americans support these views, so conservatives who don’t are a backward minority who had best sit down and be quiet. But as American Enterprise Institute’s Timothy Carney effectively argued, most Americans don’t, in fact, favor unlimited, federally-guaranteed abortion access. Statistics that make it seem otherwise are mostly the result of misleading polling questions.

There are striking similarities to the gender conversion debate. Here, too, proponents of so-called “gender-affirming care” produce scare stories of teen suicide to coerce parents and lawmakers alike into doling out the drugs. But the link between gender dysphoria, suicide, and transition is all a bit hazy. Certainly, the transgender suicide rate is staggeringly high. But as Abigail Shrier has documented in her book Irreversible Damage, the majority of teens who transition actually fare worse after transition, not better. Furthermore, she writes, there is no evidence either that gender dysphoria itself is what causes depression and suicidal ideation in gender dysphoric teens, nor that gender affirming therapy fixes the problems. She cites a leaked report from the newly defamed UK-based Tavistock and Portman Trust gender clinic, “which showed that rates of self-harm and suicidality did not decrease even after puberty suppression for adolescent natal girls.” The language of “rights” is abundant here also. Recent stories on the transgender athlete debate have mostly featured headlines describing the “restrictions” that such athletes face, instead of focusing on the very real physical and even financial harm done to biological women.

This is how the left fights—not with statistics, but with storytelling. The statistics didn’t support the need for unlimited abortion access. The statistics don’t validate handing out body- and brain-altering hormones or hormone blockers to children. So instead, activists tell scary stories of teens who killed themselves because their parents wouldn’t go along with their new identity. And then, the liberal media and liberal corporations so control the terms of the debate that conservatives feel like they’ve already lost the war, when the opening battles are just beginning.

Conservatives should take the lessons of Roe, and fight back hard against the gender theorists. Measures like that in Arkansas are a place to start.

is the managing editor of The Natural Family, the quarterly publication of the International Organization for the Family.

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