Metro Weekly

South Dakota Republicans consider restricting treatments that help trans youth transition

Bill would threaten doctors who prescribe hormones or surgery to trans youth with jail time and a possible fine

South Dakota State Capitol – Credit: Jimmy Emerson, DVM/flickr

On Wednesday, a South Dakota House committee approved a bill that would ban medical providers from prescribing hormones or gender confirmation surgery for transgender youth.

The bill, sponsored by State Rep. Fred Deutsch (R-Florence), originally made it a felony for any medical professional to provide treatments, including hormones or puberty blockers, to anyone under the age of 18.

The bill was subsequently amended to make the act of prescribing such treatments a Class 1 misdemeanor, lower the age at which a person can begin receiving the treatments from 18 to 16, and exempt medical support staff like nurses or medical assistants.

Under the revised bill, any doctor who provides transition-related treatments to a minor under the age of 16 could face up to a year in prison and a fine of up to $2,000.

The measure was approved by the House State Affairs Committee by an 8-5 vote, with three Republicans voting against it, reports The Washington Post.

Critics of the bill say this will effectively discourage doctors not to provide any form of gender-affirming health care for transgender people, lest they face criminal charges.

They also noted during the hearing that fewer than four physicians in South Dakota offer puberty blockers and hormone therapies, and it is unclear if any perform gender confirmation surgeries — thus making the bill an exercise in political posturing, rather than addressing a specific problem or need.

Proponents of the bill take umbrage — as voiced in a National Review article by Madeleine Kearns — at the suggestion that the bill is anti-LGBTQ, saying that they are concerned that transgender teenagers are too young to make permanent decisions about their health and may live to regret those decisions.

Some members of the coalition pushing for the bill are so-called “ex-transgender” people or rely on claims from people within the “de-transition” movement who say that their transition did not help them with their underlying mental health issues or depression.

Indeed, Deutsch said the impetus for the bill was meeting people who formerly identified as transgender and claimed they were “hurting and suffering” as a result of undergoing surgical or hormonal treatments.

He admitted he consulted with the anti-LGBTQ Liberty Counsel and the Kelsey Coalition, a “nonpartisan,” volunteer-run organization that claims to be interested in protecting youth who identify as transgender.

Deutsch also attended a conference, hosted by the conservative Heritage Foundation, which addressed proposals to ban transition-related treatments for youth in various states, the Post reports.

The Republicans who voted against the bill expressed reservations on how it would be enforced. Rep. Kent Peterson (R-Salem) questioned how the state would access confidential medical information and track prescriptions to ensure that they’re not being given to minors.

Majority Whip Michael Diedrich (R-Rapid City) said he was convinced by testimony from parents, transgender youth, and medical experts that puberty blockers have been helpful to people suffering from gender dysphoria, and that their effects aren’t permanent.

In fact, a recent paper published in the journal Pediatrics found that transgender youth who have access to puberty blockers are less likely to have suicidal thoughts.

Diedrich attempted to remove puberty blockers from the list of treatments banned by the bill, but his amendment was defeated.

Dr. Alexis Chavez, the medical director for The Trevor Project, a trans psychiatrist who specializes in LGBTQ youth health and has founded several trans health care clinics, criticized the bill as harmful to trans youth.

“This dangerous bill threatens responsible medical professionals with imprisonment for providing best-practice medical care to transgender youth. It cannot be allowed to become law,” Chavez said in a statement. 

“The research is clear: supporting transgender and non-binary youth in their identities has positive mental health outcomes and decreases suicide risk. Cutting off access to medically necessary care will cost lives,” Chavez added. “We call on South Dakota’s lawmakers to stop using trans young people as political pawns and to instead work to create safe and affirming environments for all youth to thrive.”

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