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Georgia House passes bill limiting medical care for transgender children

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Georgia House passes bill limiting medical care for transgender children

State Rep. Omari Crawford (D-Decatur) speaks in opposition of Senate Bill 140 on Thursday, March 16, on the floor of the state House of Representatives. Photo by Zoe Seiler.

This story has been updated.

Atlanta, GA — The Georgia House of Representatives passed a bill that seeks to restrict the care doctors could provide to transgender children.

Senate Bill 140, sponsored by Sen. Carden Summers (R-Senate District 13), would prohibit doctors from providing hormone or surgical treatments for gender dysphoria to individuals under 18. Minors currently on hormones for gender dysphoria could continue receiving treatment. The bill would also allow puberty-blocking medications, the Georgia Recorder reported.

The bill passed the Senate on March 6 with a 33-22 vote and passed the House on March 16 with a 96-75 vote. The House amended the bill, so the bill has to go back to the Senate for another vote.

During a committee meeting on Tuesday, Rep. Jodi Lott made an amendment to remove language that would have protected doctors from civil or criminal charges for violating the proposed legislation.

Rep. Josh Bonner (R-Fayetteville) sponsored the bill in the House. He noted that as legislators, lawmakers are charged with “protecting our most vulnerable population in the state.”

“Senate Bill 140 does just that by establishing guardrails to ensure that children struggling with identity issues are not rushed into decisions that would alter their bodies forever,” Bonner said. “The bill prohibits medical providers from performing surgery or prescribing hormone therapy for the purposes of altering the sex of anyone under the age of 18.”

He added that if doctors were to violate the bill, they could face sanctions from the Composite State Board of Medical Examiners or the Department of Community Health. Those sanctions could include a physician losing their license.

“Senate Bill 140 seeks to strike the balance between providing a proper level of care with the fundamental principle found in the Hippocratic Oath, do no harm. I believe this bill does that in a way that recognizes fully the reality of the world our children live in today, while preventing a decision that can cause irrevocable harm,” Bonner said.

At least a dozen Democrats spoke against the bill – many of them representing DeKalb County. They pleaded with their fellow lawmakers to reconsider the bill. They raised concerns about the legislation not protecting transgender youth, worried about the high suicide rates among transgender kids, and stressed that decisions around medical care should be left to the parents.

Rep. Karla Drenner (D-Avondale Estates) has been in the legislature for 23 years, and she was the first openly gay representative in Georgia. Throughout her political career, she has seen various bills that have impacted the LGBTQ community.

“Now today, we’re talking about kids,” Drenner said. “You’re telling these parents that they are bad parents because they want to take care of their children.”

She added that she believes lawmakers mean well, but the bill is wrong.

“To all the children in our state that are going to be negatively impacted, please don’t lose hope,” Drenner said as her voice broke. “Please don’t give up. Please don’t kill yourself. This world is worth it. We need you.”

The Georgia Supreme Court has held that “the beginning presumption is that the parent has the child’s best interest at heart,” Rep. Teri Anulewicz (D-Smyrna) said.

“We have affirmed in this General Assembly, we have codified into law legislation that has decreed that parents are the ultimate authority to determine whether and when their children receive vaccines, whether and when their children can wear a mask amidst a pandemic, whether and when their children can learn about dark, tricky, complicated, confusing moments in our history. We have affirmed in this chamber that parents have that authority,” she said.

She has questioned what makes SB 140 different from other issues related to parental decisions.

Rep. Scott Holcomb (D-Atlanta) admitted he doesn’t have a lot of understanding about the issue, but he was troubled by the bill.

Many speakers pointed to the medical principle of do no harm. Some said the bill was consistent with the idea, but others said the bill will have negative impacts. Holcomb said the bill will harm some of the state’s most vulnerable citizens.

“These children are really vulnerable,” he said. “Their lives are not easy. We’re going to make their lives even more difficult. I really do fear that we may lose some lives by passing this – not save lives, but lose lives. That should give everyone pause to really think about what we’re doing.”

Rep. Imani Barnes, a member of the LGBTQ community and a public health PhD candidate, asked her colleagues to oppose the bill and keep the public’s health in mind.

“Putting the public’s health at the forefront looks like voting no for SB 140, and coming back to the table with other solutions, like mental health programs for trans kids, safe spaces for trans kids, community support programs for trans kids that will further decrease the suicide rates,” Barnes said.

Republican lawmakers say they are protecting kids. Some representatives raised concerns about minors seeking irreversible treatment for gender dysphoria and growing to regret those decisions.

Rep. Mark Newton (R-Augusta) is a board-certified emergency physician. He shared some information about claims those opposed to the bill have made.

He started with noting that sometimes organizations, like the Centers for Disease Control and Federal Drug Administration, can be incorrect in their guidance, and they correct it when better data becomes available.

He has also heard claims that the state shouldn’t interfere with doctors and their decision-making along with their patients. That’s true most of the time, he said.

“There are narrow times though when the state does get involved,” Newton said. “An example that I just mentioned was when well-meaning doctors are prescribing controlled substances, whether sedatives, opiates, or others. Well, the legislature’s definitely involved.”

Doctors are required to review a database before writing prescriptions, and pharmacists also have to check the database before dispensing prescriptions.

“Doctors and medical treatments do sometimes require state involvement to protect individuals from even well-intentioned physicians,” Newton said.

“Finally, the third and last thing, science is still in the early stages of understanding and grappling with what’s been a tremendous rise in reports of gender dysphoria,” he added.

Republican lawmakers also said that children should be protected in their development stage and that their brains aren’t fully formed yet.

“When a child’s brain is more developed, they can more fully understand, as an adult, the potential side effects of surgical and chemical treatments that can cause irreversible results,” Newton said.

Rep. Will Wade agreed.

“I’m voting yes today because I believe that childhood is about giving young people time to develop and letting them learn from trial and error, but while still protecting them from long-term harms,” Wade said.

Georgia Equality, an LGBTQ advocacy organization, was working to mobilize opposition to the bill as it heads back to the state Senate.

“Rep. Bonner is now moving to have SB 140 IMMEDIATELY transmitted back to the Senate,” Georgia Equality wrote in a Twitter post. “Make no mistake: Republicans are trying to ram this harmful bill through as quickly as possible, ignoring the protests from a massive opposition.”

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