AP NEWS

South Dakota House OKs ban on kids’ gender-change treatment

January 29, 2020 GMT

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — The South Dakota House on Wednesday passed a bill that would ban gender-change treatment for children under 16, including surgeries, puberty-blockers and hormone therapy.

The measure makes it possible to charge doctors who do so with a misdemeanor that could carry up to a year in jail and a $2,000 fine. The bill passed the Republican-controlled House 46-23, with a handful of Republican defections. It now moves to the Senate.

GOP Gov. Kristi Noem has said she has concerns about the bill but hasn’t said whether she would veto it.

Republican legislators, with backing from conservative advocacy groups, are pushing similar bills in at least six states, including Florida, Missouri, Colorado, Illinois and New Hampshire.

Lawmakers argued about the medical, legal, and financial ramifications of the law for nearly 90 minutes before voting.

Democrats and LGBTQ advocates say the treatments may be lifesaving and medically necessary because they can improve the mental health of transgender children. They warn that blocking treatment could raise the risk of suicides.

The South Dakota State Medical Association also opposes the bill, calling it interference in the doctor-patient relationship.

Proponents of the bill in South Dakota argue that the medical treatments are ideologically motivated and harm children in the long run. Rep. Fred Deutsch, the Watertown Republican who introduced the bill, called it a “pause button” for children who want to change their gender.

“The argument that carried the day, rightfully, is that we’re protecting children in South Dakota,” he said.

House Minority Leader Jamie Smith, a Sioux Falls Democrat, said that doctors in South Dakota have told him that this is this is not a problem in the state.

“They were appalled that they are going to be told by us how to do their job,” Smith said.

Sanford Health, one of the largest medical providers in the state, treated fewer than 20 minors seeking treatment for gender dysphoria last year, according to Mitch Rave, a lobbyist for the business.

Deutsch said there are two other healthcare providers in the state that offer treatment to children with gender dysphoria.

Smith said Republicans were “cherry-picking” medical studies, alternately pointing to medical studies that detail the long-term effects of puberty blockers and hormone therapy, while also casting doubt on doctors and medical associations that recommend gender-change treatments for children.

Leading medical authorities, including the Endocrine Society and the World Professional Association for Transgender Health, do not recommend gender-change surgeries for minors. For youths experiencing puberty and older adolescents, the Endocrine Society recommends that a team composed of expert medical and mental health professionals manages treatment, which can include puberty-blocking drugs or hormone therapy.

Several Republicans broke with their party to oppose the bill.

Rep. Jess Olson, a Rapid City Republican, said that in running an organization mentoring children she has helped in the care of a transgender child. She said the proposed law would be government overreach.

“We need to be careful when we interfere with parental rights,” Olson said.

The American Civil Liberities Union has promised to mount a legal challenge to the gender-change treatment ban if it becomes law.

But House Majority Leader Lee Qualm, a Platte Republican, told legislators that the Liberty Counsel, a conservative legal organization with ties to Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr., has offered to defend the state if it’s sued.

Lawmakers also debated the financial impact of the bill. Several business groups oppose it, saying that it may deter corporations from doing business in the state.

Marketing the state to prospective businesses is a central goal of the governor this year.

Republicans pointed to the example of North Carolina’s so-called bathroom bill that was passed in 2016 to make the argument that the bill would not significantly impact the state. They said they heard from the sponsor of the North Carolina bill that it did not significantly impact tax revenues.

Democrats pointed out that North Carolina repealed much of the law a year after passing it.

An Associated Press analysis found that North Carolina could have lost out on more than $3.76 billion over a dozen years after losing out on business projects, conventions and sports tournaments.

In 2016, South Dakota legislators approved a so-called bathroom bill that would have required transgender children to use the bathrooms that corresponded to their sex at birth, but former Gov. Dennis Daugaard, a Republican, vetoed it.

A pair of bills related to transgender youth have also been introduced in the South Dakota Senate this year. One would allow parents to withdraw their children from health care, including counseling services, that promote or confirm a child’s gender different to their birth gender. The other bill would require school counselors to tell parents if their child has feelings of gender dysphoria.

Libby Skarin, policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota, said in a statement, “It’s time to stop these attacks on transgender youth and focus on issues that really matter to the people of South Dakota.”