Utah Bans Transgender Surgeries and Puberty Blockers for Children

Amy Gamm
By Amy Gamm
January 28, 2023US News
Utah Bans Transgender Surgeries and Puberty Blockers for Children
Utah National Guardsmen stand guard at the Utah State Capitol building to provide security in Salt Lake City, Utah, on Jan. 20, 2021. (George Frey/AFP via Getty Images)

Utah has become the first state in 2023 to ban most youth from receiving transgender surgery and puberty blockers.

The legislation, SB16, passed the state Senate on Friday with a vote of 20–8; two Republican state senators joined with the chamber’s six Democrats in voting against the bill. Republican Utah Gov. Spencer Cox had ten days to decide whether to sign, veto, or let the bill go into effect without his signature. He signed the bill on Saturday.

The measure prohibits health care providers from performing transgender surgeries or prescribing hormone therapy for minors who have not yet been diagnosed with gender dysphoria—a term that the Mayo Clinic defines as “the feeling of discomfort or distress … in people whose gender identity differs from their sex assigned at birth or sex-related physical characteristics.”

However, it doesn’t put a stop to minors who are already receiving hormonal therapy; the moratorium is only for new patients.

The new law requires that the Department of Health and Human Services conduct a “systemic review of the medical evidence regarding hormonal transgender treatments and provide recommendations to the Legislature,” though it does not set an end date for the review or require the Utah Legislature to revisit the policy once the review is complete.

It also places certain requirements on health care providers to administer hormonal transgender treatment and contains provisions allowing for minors to bring malpractice lawsuits against health care providers for treatment they provided if the individuals later “disaffirm consent.”

SB16 was sponsored by Republican state Sen. Mike Kennedy, a practicing family physician, who said his motivation behind the legislation was “to protect children from making irreversible changes to their bodies,” the Tribune reported.

“Our country is witnessing a radical and dangerous push for children to enter this version of healthcare. Caring for our children does not mean riding the latest radical wave. Caring for our children means stepping back from the churning waters and asking some tough, complex questions,” he said.

Last week, Cox told KSL News Radio’s “Let Me Speak to the Governor” program that he’s “not planning to veto” the bill, Deseret News reported. According to the outlet, Cox said he’s had “lots of conversations” with the bill’s sponsor and other “stakeholders,” including members from the LGBTQ community, about the legislation.

He said the bill “approaches it in the right way,” adding that “we’re going to push pause, we’re going to look at the research, we’re going to gather all of the data and make sure we’re not doing any long-term harm to our young people.”

According to sfgate.com, the state’s legislature made the bill’s passage a top priority, hearing the first draft just two days into Utah’s 2023 legislative session.

The Salt Lake Tribune reported that the legislation carried two-thirds support in both the House and Senate, which meant that had Cox decided to veto the bill, it would have been likely overridden “in short order.”

According to Deseret News, Republican state Sen. Todd Weiler had struggled with his decision. Describing himself as a “big believer in parental rights,” he told the news outlet that he’s also been “startled” by the recent news coming from Western European countries—such as Sweden, the United Kingdom, and France—that have been performing surgeries and administering hormone blockers to youths for “almost a decade” before it became “routine” in the United States and are now making “moves to overhaul medical care for transgender youth.”

“With that decade longer experience, those countries … have all started putting the brakes on this,” he said.

Despite his misgivings, Weiler joined the Democrats in opposing the legislation.

According to Deseret News, Utah’s LGBTQ advocacy group Equality Utah continues to oppose the legislation.

“I’ve seen little evidence that lawmakers are really listening to families with transgender children [and] seeing the positive impact of this care,” Equality Utah’s executive director Troy Williams told the news outlet, later saying in a text to the Tribune, “This debate is far from over. It will next move to the courts.”

Kennedy anticipates litigation to come on the issue if enacted, Breitbart reported.

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