West Virginia House passes gender-affirming treatment ban

February 3, 2023 GMT
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House Judiciary Chairman Moore Capito presides over a public hearing on a bill that would ban minors from accessing gender-affirming surgery and hormone therapy at the West Virginia state Capitol in Charleston, W.Va., Thursday, Feb. 2, 2023. (AP Photo/Leah Willingham)
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House Judiciary Chairman Moore Capito presides over a public hearing on a bill that would ban minors from accessing gender-affirming surgery and hormone therapy at the West Virginia state Capitol in Charleston, W.Va., Thursday, Feb. 2, 2023. (AP Photo/Leah Willingham)

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia’s Republican supermajority House of Delegates passed a bill Friday banning gender-affirming surgery and hormone therapy for minors, a day after crowds descended on the state Capitol to decry the proposal.

The legislation passed 84-10, with all ‘no’ votes coming from the body’s shrinking delegation of Democrats, who accused GOP lawmakers of putting children’s lives at risk to score political points with the national conservative movement.

“Once again, we have put politics over people, we have put politics over health care, we have put politics over bodily autonomy,” said Democratic Del. Danielle Walker, the only Black woman and openly LGBTQ person in the West Virginia Legislature. She wore a blue, white and pink striped transgender pride flag draped around her shoulders as she spoke.

“We all have decided harming members of the LGBTQ-plus community is worth it so we can score a couple of points for an election that’s two away,” she said.

West Virginia is among 26 states considering bans to restrict gender-affirming care for minors or young adults, with the most recent action being in South Dakota and in Utah, where the Republican governor just signed that state’s bill into law. A judge is reviewing whether to strike down Arkansas’ law after temporarily blocking it last year.

Republicans in other states who have moved to limit access to the treatments for minors have often characterized the treatments as medically unproven and potentially dangerous in the long term, as another political battle against liberal ideologies. They also say teenagers shouldn’t undergo irreversible surgeries.

Many doctors, mental health specialists and medical groups have argued that treatments for young transgender people are safe and beneficial, though rigorous long-term research is lacking. Federal health officials have described the gender-affirming care as crucial to the health and wellbeing of transgender children and adolescents.

West Virginia’s bill, which now heads to the state Senate, prohibits physicians from providing gender-affirming surgery or hormone therapy for minors. West Virginia has a Republican governor and one of the largest Republican majorities in any state legislature in the country, and the legislation has a high chance of becoming law.

It provides exceptions for individuals born with a “medically verifiable disorder” including people with “external biological sex characteristics that are irresolvably ambiguous” and for people taking treatments for infection, injury, disease, or disorder that has been “caused by or exacerbated by the performance of gender transition procedures.”

People can also access the treatment if they are in “imminent danger of death, or impairment of a major bodily function unless surgery is performed.”

During debate on the House floor, Fluharty Democratic Del. Shawn Fluharty called the bill “blatantly unconstitutional” and asked Judiciary Chairman Republican Del. Moore Capito if there is any evidence that gender-affirming surgeries for minors are even taking place in West Virginia. Fluharty said he spoke to medical professionals who said no.

Capito said his committee, which greenlit the bill earlier this week, heard no testimony from a doctor saying children were getting the surgeries.

“We don’t have any data,” Capito said.

“We all know why we’re here today — because the Legislature doesn’t see trans kids as actually people, just political mailers,” Fluharty said. “Why is this Legislature so obsessed with the bedroom, the exam room, and any other room they can be in? Smaller government, that’s what we hear all the time. It doesn’t exist.”

Republican Del. Geno Chiarelli called said even youth aren’t getting gender-affirming surgeries in West Virginia right now, there’s no telling what could happen in the future.

“We can be pro-active instead of reactive,” he said. “That’s the kind of conservative legislators that our voters want.”

“This body effectively banned abortion last year, and now there’s more of us here than before,” he continued. “There’s an appetite for this kind of legislation, and I encourage you all to vote yes.”

Republican Del. Rick Hillenbrand spoke in support of the bill, saying he has nothing against transgender people. He just doesn’t think children should be taking hormones or having surgery to treat gender dysphoria until they’re older.

“If you’re an adult, and that’s what you want to do, I say: ‘Go for it,’” he said. “Rather, this is a bill about protecting our youth.”

Republican Del. Jim Butler agreed, saying people’s brains are still developing when they are teenagers and they are too young to be making decisions they have to “live with for the rest of their lives.”

“That’s why we don’t have voting below 18 years old, that’s why we don’t send our children into circumstances where they have to make this type of decision in any other case that I can think of,” he said.

Before the majority passed the bill overwhelmingly, Democratic Del. Joe Garcia implored lawmakers to think of the around 80 doctors, parents and LGBTQ people who came to the Capitol on Thursday to speak against the bill during a public hearing. Only two people showed up to speak in support.

Many of the people who spoke at the hearing noted the disproportionate rate of suicide and suicide attempts among transgender youth.

“I don’t want to judgments about what’s in people’s hearts, but the bill itself bullies people who are different — it harms people who are different,” he said.