South Dakota lawmakers have passed a bill barring gender-affirming care for transgender youth, sending it to the desk of Republican Gov. Kristi Noem.
Noem has expressed support for the measure and is expected to sign it into law.
On Thursday, Feb. 9, the South Dakota Senate voted along party lines, 30-4, to pass HB 1080, a bill barring transgender or nonbinary youth from accessing several forms of gender-affirming health care.
The bill previously passed the House of Representatives by a 60-10 margin on Feb. 2.
Once signed into law by Noem, South Dakota would become the sixth state in the nation to impose restrictions on gender-affirming care for minors. At least two of those laws — in Arkansas and Alabama — have been blocked by federal courts, while LGBTQ advocates are promising to bring a third lawsuit challenging a similar law in Utah.
Under the bill, doctors are prohibited from providing various forms of gender-affirming care, including puberty blockers, hormones, and surgical treatments, to minors. Supporters claim such restrictions are needed to protect children from pursuing irreversible transition-related treatments that they may later grow to regret.
“We need to stand in the gap for vulnerable children and guide them towards true health and healing,” Sen. Al Novstrup (R-Aberdeen) said. He also rebutted criticisms of the bill by noting that any individual who is determined to transition need only wait until they reach the age of 18, at which point they can make their own decisions, reports the Argus Leader.
During debate on the Senate floor, two amendments were offered. The first, offer by Sen. Tim Reed (R-Brookings), would have amended the bill to allow children to access puberty blockers while still banning hormone treatments and surgery, which he believed would help reduce suicidal ideation among trans-identifying youth.
“Puberty blockers can calm a child [with] anxiety so that counseling can begin,” Reed argued. “Blockers have a place helping families navigate through an extremely difficult situation. We need to be able to give these kids a chance…. Let’s let the parents, the children and the doctor work together to figure out what’s best for that child, so they can have the best life possible and not end up in suicide
But the amendment was defeated by a 25-9 margin after Sen. John Wiik (R-Big Stone City), a father of three teenagers, argued that allowing children to take drugs to “delay the inevitable” was not the answer.
Despite the defeat of his amendment, Reed still voted for the bill.
The second amendment, offered by Sen. Reynold Nesiba (D-Sioux Falls), sought to provide mental health counseling for minors experiencing gender dysphoria who are going to be barred from accessing gender-affirming treatments.
“We’re going to make them rely on counseling, let’s do no harm,” he said. “Let’s help these kids. Let’s make sure that if they need medical assistance, they are going to be able to get access to this.”
But Nesiba’s amendment was also defeated.
Critics of the ban on gender-affirming care say it’s another example of government overreach — which conservatives often rail against when it comes to other issues — that interferes with personal medical decisions and infringes upon parental rights.
The American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota blasted the bill, arguing that it may be unconstitutional because it discriminates against people based on their sex and transgender identity, and violates parents’ right to make medical decisions for their children, thereby violating the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
“House Bill 1080 is a devastating and dangerous violation of the rights and privacy of transgender South Dakotans, their families and their medical providers,” Samantha Chapman, advocacy manager at the ACLU of South Dakota, said in a statement.
“Medical decisions belong to patients (and their parents) and their doctors — not the government. The only controversy in providing life-saving gender-affirming care for transgender youth in South Dakota is the one fabricated by legislators who want to see this harmful bill become law.”
State Rep. Kameron Nelson (D-Sioux Falls), the only out LGBTQ lawmaker in South Dakota, said the bill’s passage marked a “devastating day” for the state’s transgender community.
“Gender-affirming care is lifesaving and this ban, if signed by Governor Noem, will have dire consequences. I am appalled that a legislature with zero trans lawmakers would make such a short-sighted, consequential decision. This is yet another step to erase queer people from South Dakota,” Nelson said in a statement.
Susan Williams, the executive director of the Transformation Project, a Sioux Falls nonprofit for the transgender community, wrote in a statement posted to Twitter that she felt betrayed by lawmakers’ decision to pursue the ban.
The Transformation Project is currently planning several demonstrations at legislative coffees, or public meetings between legislators and their constituents, in the cities of Sioux Falls, Brookings, Rapid City, and Vermilion on Saturday.
“I feel confused and don’t know if these people really don’t understand us, or simply don’t care. It makes me feel singled out, isolated and alone,” Williams said of the bill’s passage. “This is a very hard time, yet knowing that we are experiencing this together and having each other to lean on that makes me feel a little bit better. We are here to support each other.”
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