On Wednesday, the Utah Health and Human Services Interim Committee voted 12-5 in favor of advancing draft legislation that proposes a statewide ban on surgical procedures for minors diagnosed with gender dysphoria.
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The legislature failed to pass a similar bill earlier this year that would have blocked both gender-altering surgery and the use of hormone therapy or puberty blockers on minors.
In September, the committee passed 2 motions to open committee bills, one to address surgical care for transgender children and the other to address other non-surgical medical care such as hormone blockers and hormone therapies for transgender children.
Wednesday’s meeting considered the first of those 2 proposals. Prior to the vote, the committee chair and sponsor of the draft bill, Senator Michael Kennedy (R – Lindon) cited clinical recommendations of delaying gender-affirming genital surgery until after the age of 18 in his opening remarks, arguing that the ban would serve as a protection mechanism for these children.
“The evidence for whether or not [gender-affirming surgery] actually does what we hope it does for these individuals is weak,” Kennedy said during the hearing. “It’s available, but it’s weak. All I’m asking for is that we be thoughtful about what is a novel treatment before we open this up to whatever anybody wants to do.”
The state does not currently ban cosmetic procedures such as breast reduction and augmentation surgeries for minors. But under the draft proposal, these procedures would be banned if associated with gender change for minors.
Several members of the committee expressed concerns over the proposal’s constitutionality. The General Counsel on the committee confirmed that the legislation opens the risk of constitutionally based litigation by targeting a sex-based classification of transgender status.
State policy has targeted transgender youth this year. The legislature passed House Bill 11, which banned transgender girls from particpating in school sports. In August, the Third District Court placed an injunction on the ban and the ACLU filed a lawsuit against the Utah High School Athletics Association.
State Rep. Jennifer Dailey-Provost (D – Salt Lake City), who cast one of the dissenting votes on Wednesday, was critical of the ban and said during the hearing that the state legislature should not be inserting itself into the health care of legitimate patients seeking medical attention.
Speaking to State of Reform following the hearing, Dailey-Provost said her biggest concerns with the bill were that it targets transgender children, a vulnerable population, and inserts the legislature into medical decisions.
“It’s unconstitutional to say this specific category of people have rights to access health care, and this other specific category of people do not have rights to the exact same health care,” Dailey-Provost said. “That’s quite blatantly unconstitutional. Not to mention just cruel. This is a decision for patients, for parents, and their health care providers, and that’s where it should stay.”
With the interim committee’s divided approval, a Senate committee will conduct a hearing on the proposal in next year’s legislative session to decide whether it will be introduced as a bill.