State Momentum Builds to Protect Minors from Gender Transition Procedures
Over the past two weeks, state legislatures have accelerated their push to protect children from gender transition procedures, including puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones, and non-genital and genital surgeries. On March 2, four state legislatures had enacted laws prohibiting gender transition procedures for children, but since mid-March that number has swollen to eight, with bills awaiting governors’ signatures in two additional states.
In the first two months of 2023, four state legislatures passed bills offering some degree of protection to minors from health care professionals who would perform gender transition procedures on them. Utah’s SB 16 was signed into law on January 28. South Dakota’s HB 1080 was signed into law on February 14. Mississippi’s HB 1125 was signed into law on February 28. And Tennessee’s SB 1 was signed into law on March 2 (though passed in February).
This legislative progress accelerated in late March, as four state legislatures passed bills in rapid succession.
Iowa’s SF 538, which passed the Senate (33-16) on March 7 and the House (58-39) on March 8, was sent to Governor Kim Reynolds (R) on March 22 and signed the same day. It forbids a health care professional to “knowingly engage in or cause” and gender transition surgery or the prescription of puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones on a minor “if the practice is performed for the purpose of” an attempted gender transition. It will be enforceable through professional discipline, a private cause of action, and the state attorney general.
Georgia’s SB 140, which passed the Senate (33-22) on March 6, the House (96-75) on March 16 with amendments, and the Senate again (31-21) on March 21, was signed into law by Governor Brian Kemp (R) on March 23. It prohibits “irreversible procedures or therapies shall be performed on a minor for the treatment of gender dysphoria,” including “Sex reassignment surgeries, or …Hormone replacement therapies,” enforceable by professional boards. However, it contains exceptions for “Treatments for medical conditions other than gender dysphoria or for the purpose of sex reassignment where such treatments are deemed medically necessary” and “Continued treatment of minors who are, prior to July 1, 2023, being treated with irreversible hormone replacement therapies.”
West Virginia Governor Jim Justice (R) signed that state’s H.B. 2007 into law on March 29. The law prohibits “irreversible gender reassignment surgery or gender altering medication” to minors, enforceable by professional licensing authorities. However, it contains an exception for puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones “for severe gender dysphoria” if providers complete the proper paperwork.
Also on March 29, the Kentucky General Assembly voted (29-8 in the Senate and 76-23 in the House) to override a veto of SB 150 by Governor Andy Beshear (D). The measure protects children from gender transition procedures, as well as securing school locker rooms and bathrooms from members of the opposite sex and guaranteeing parental rights in education. During the successful veto override attempt in the House, pro-transgender protestors disrupted proceedings with loud chanting from the balcony and continued to do so until law enforcement escorted them premises and arrested 19 people for trespassing.
This unprecedented momentum shows little sign of waning. Already, two other state legislators have sent bills that would protect minors from gender transition procedures to the governors’ desks. Montana’s SB 99, for which Dr. Jennifer Bauwens, Family Research Council’s director of the Center for Family Studies, testified, passed the Senate (30-20) on February 8, passed the House (65-34) with amendments on March 24, and passed the Senate again (32-17) on March 29. Indiana’s SB 480 passed the Senate (36-12) on February 28 and passed the House (65-30) on March 27. Both bills, which provide strong protections, now await a governor’s signature.
This year’s legislative push to protect children from gender transition procedures shows a dramatic increase in support from previous legislative sessions. In 2021, Arkansas passed the very first bill of this kind, over then-Governor Asa Hutchinson’s (R) veto, and was the only state legislature to do so. That same year, South Dakota Republicans quietly killed a similar bill in committee. In 2022, only two states, Alabama and Arizona, passed bills to protect minors from gender transition procedures. So far in 2023, eight states have passed such legislation.
Some of the details about when a state legislature can pass a bill is simply a feature of that state’s legislative calendar. For instance, the Louisiana state legislature does not even convene until April 10, while Virginia’s adjourned sine die (over and out) on February 25. Thus, while state legislatures in Kentucky and West Virginia had to race to get the bills across the finish line before their adjournment dates (March 30 and March 11, respectively), legislatures in states like Missouri, Nebraska, and Oklahoma have until late May to pass legislation.
At least six more states have bills to protect minors from gender transition procedures that have passed at least one chamber. This means that we could see even more state legislatures act to protect children from gender transition procedures before the state legislative season ends.
Of the nine state legislatures that have adjourned so far, five of them passed bills to protect children from gender transition procedures. Of the other four, Democrats control both chambers of the legislature in Maine and New Mexico and one chamber in Virginia. While protecting children from gender transition procedures should and does receive bipartisan support, individual Democrats who support must buck their party’s consensus to do so. The only Republican-controlled state legislature that has adjourned in 2023 without passing a bill to protect minors from gender transition procedures is Wyoming.
Not all bills that fit into the category of “protecting children from gender transition procedures” are equal, however. Some bills provide clear definitions, robust protections for minors, solid enforcement mechanisms, and contingencies to fight the inevitable legal challenges. Other bills contain straightforward prohibitions without many bells or whistles. But some bills are downright weak, containing exceptions massive enough to drive through a busload of gender-confused youth — which is precisely what the practitioners prescribing and performing these gender transition procedures intend to do.
Weak bills — such as those passed in Utah, West Virginia, and Georgia — carve out exceptions for hormonal treatments on minors begun before some future date. This is likely to provoke a rush of health care providers initiating these hormonal treatments before the time limit expires. Based on evidence that sudden cessation of hormonal treatments might cause psychological harm, many bills allow for a 6-12 month draw-down period to safely wean youth off of these drugs. But these weak bills stand out because their exceptions are indefinite.
Lamentably, in Utah and West Virginia, state Republican leaders actually led the charge to weaken these bills by introducing these exceptions that severely hindered the overall effectiveness of the legislation — while gaining them no brownie points from the furiously hostile media.
Wide variation in bill quality, combined with ongoing opposition among some Republican legislators, indicates the ongoing need to set the record straight about exactly what problem these bills seek to address and what they will do about it. Specifically, those who would protect children from these harmful procedures need to grow more comfortable and skilled at refuting the Left’s favorite talking points, that such legislation will cause gender-confused youth to commit suicide — there is no link — and that gender transition procedures on minors is not a widespread phenomenon — increasing evidence indicates that it is.
So, while the recent wave of state legislation shows encouraging momentum, this is only the opening phase in a long-term effort to protect children from those who would do them harm.
Joshua Arnold is a staff writer at The Washington Stand.