Bill banning gender-affirming care for minors moves forward in house legislature
March 30, 2023
HELENA -- A bill that would bar children under 18 experiencing gender dysphoria from getting gender-affirming care in the state of Montana or with Montana Medicaid cleared a final vote 65-to-34 in the House Friday, after an emotional debate the day before.
Sen. Keith Regier, R-Kalispell, is the sponsor of Senate Bill 99, but Rep.Kerri Seekins-Crowe, R-Billings, carried it in the House. She said the bill would stop children from making life-long decisions about their health at a young age to protect them from the potential side effects of gender-affirming care later in life.
“Puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones and gender reassignment surgery all carry significant risks and long-term consequences, including infertility, sexual dysfunction, cardiovascular problems, and problems with bone density. Children and adolescents are particularly vulnerable to these risks due to their ongoing physical and emotional development,” Seekins Crowe said. “There is also a serious lack of long-term research on this issue. We have very limited data on the long-term effects of hormone therapy and surgery for gender dysphoria. This makes it difficult to fully understand the risks and benefits of these interventions, particularly for children and adolescents.”
The bill would bar children under the age of 18 from receiving any gender-affirming care like puberty blockers or hormone replacement therapy in the state until they are legally an adult. It would also hold doctors who administer such care in Montana liable in a court of law for 25 years for any harm caused to their patient later in life as a result of gender-affirming care they received as a child.
Proponents cited a trend of outside influences, like social media, leading children to question their gender identity as the root cause for this bill. They said SB 99 is just a start to make sure that kids are protected from themselves and outside influence.
“There’s so much pressure right now in society on these kids to transition because they -- they’re told they may be something else than what they are. But a lot of these kids, when they go through puberty, they don’t end up trans. They end up gay or bisexual or lesbian -- that side of it,” Rep. Jedediah Hinkle, R-Belgrade, said in support of the bill.
The bill would also prohibit state agencies and properties from encouraging what the bill defines as social transition, like changing a child’s preferred pronouns or dress.
The bill drew strong opposition from Democrats. Rep. Zooey Zephyr, D-Missoula, is trans herself. She opened her testimony with an appeal to Montana’s trans youth, whose mental health and safety she said could be profoundly and negatively affected by policies like this.
“If you are trans, particularly if you are targeted by legislation like this, I have one request for you: Please stay alive. I know how harmful and painful these bills can be to listen to. How much hurt this debate causes us. I feel it every day in this building as I walk through, whether it’s indifference or cruelty towards our community. But please, to my trans siblings, stay alive. Lean on your community in these times. If you are in crisis, call 988 or go to the Trevor Project for support. We will be there for one another through this, and ultimately we will win this fight in the end,” Zephyr said.
Other opponents said the “just wait and see” approach isn’t a good way to deal with a child who is struggling with their gender identity. Rep. Donovan Hawk, D-Butte, said puberty is permanent, and spoke about his own family to give an example of how this bill could do the opposite of protecting kids. He talked about his nephew, who is not trans but deals with Addison’s disease and has received hormone therapy since he was in middle school. Children with conditions like this would be able to receive hormone therapy for their diagnosis, but Hawk said the story illustrates that waiting too long for treatment still comes with consequences.
“He should have started before seventh grade. The damage that has been done to his body because he started so late in life is already done. So this ‘waiting until you’re 18 comments’ don’t hold any water for the damage that’s done to these bodies and the people that are growing up having to wait till they’re 18,” Hawk said.
The bill’s initial hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee was five hours long and drew 45 proponents and just less than one hundred opponents. Multiple opponents were trans youth themselves and were very concerned about being able to live happily in the state should this bill be passed. According to a report from the Department of Health and Human Services half of trans youth experiencing gender dysphoria will seriously consider committing suicide, something opponents say could be prevented if they could access the care they need.
The bill passed a third vote in the house Friday. It will now be sent back to the Senate, which will vote on amendments made in the House and then to the governor’s desk for a signature or veto if it passes.
Elinor Smith is a reporter with the UM Legislative News Service, a partnership of the University of Montana School of Journalism, the Montana Broadcasters Association, the Montana Newspaper Association and the Greater Montana Foundation.