Culture & the Family

Ray Carter | February 8, 2023

Ban on youth transgender surgeries clears committee

Ray Carter

Legislation making it illegal to perform sex-change surgeries on children or inject them with cross-sex hormones or puberty blockers has won easy approval in an Oklahoma Senate Committee.

Lawmakers also voted to bar state funds from paying for those procedures.

Both measures were advanced just days after Gov. Kevin Stitt called for their enactment in his State of the State address.

“We must protect our most vulnerable: our children,” Stitt said. “After all, minors can’t vote, can’t purchase alcohol, can’t purchase cigarettes. We shouldn’t allow a minor to get permanent, gender-altering surgery in Oklahoma. That’s why I am calling for the Legislature to send me a bill that bans all gender transition surgeries and hormone therapies on minors in the state of Oklahoma.”

Senate Bill 613, by state Sen. Julie Daniels, states, “A health care provider shall not provide gender transition procedures to any child.” The bill defines a child to include anyone younger than 18.

“We’re talking about irreversible, medical transitions in children under the age of 18, and we in this state believe that we need to hit the pause button on this and allow these children to mature to make use of any other treatment allowed under this bill, including behavioral and mental-health treatment and medication for depression and anxiety, because quite often in these situations those could be at the root of the issue,” said Daniels, R-Bartlesville.

Medical officials who violate SB 613 would face up to 10 years in prison and a $100,000 fine. They could also be stripped of their medical licenses and be sued in civil court by former patients or the family/guardians of a minor patient. Former child patients would have a cause of action until they are 45 years old. Daniels noted that is similar to existing state law that allows individuals who were raped as children to sue abusers decades after the incident.

Under SB 613, medical officials could still provide behavioral health care services or mental health counseling to children experiencing gender confusion, and they could prescribe medications to treat depression and anxiety to those young patients.

Senate Bill 129, by state Sen. David Bullard, R-Durant, states, “Public funds shall not be directly or indirectly used, granted, paid, or distributed to any entity, organization, or individual that provides gender transition procedures.”

Both bills passed the Senate Rules Committee on 16-2 votes that broke along party lines with Republicans in support and Democrats in opposition.

Democratic lawmakers spoke against SB 613, suggesting that medically trained professionals will struggle to understand the law.

State Sen. Julia Kirt, D-Oklahoma City, asked, “Have our perceptions of what are typical characteristics of specific gender or sex roles changed in the last 50 years?”

“For some people,” Daniels said, “but not for the vast majority of the population that know that biological sex is a fact and not something changeable or mutable.”

Democrats also said restricting sex-reassignment surgeries for children—which largely mirrors restrictions on child access to tobacco and alcohol—infringe on citizens’ rights.

“We are interfering with a parent’s right to make medical decisions for their child,” said state Sen. Kay Floyd, D-Oklahoma City.

Kirt said the restriction on child surgeries represented “government intervention in the worst way.”

“As more and more people like me are stepping forward as victims of this care system, we need to realize that children cannot consent to this.” —Luka Hein

“This is sending physicians out of state,” Kirt said. “This is sending people who are professionals out of state. We need those experts here. We’re going to run off more of our physicians by criminalizing them.”

But Daniels said she had received messages of support from pediatricians. She said those physicians believe such monumental decisions should be delayed until a patient reaches adulthood.

Freedom Oklahoma, a group that advocates for transgender causes, has attacked SB 613 and similar measures, calling the bills “extreme in their cruelty and capacity to do harm” and claiming the measures are an effort to “legislate transgender people out of existence.”

The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Oklahoma, and Lambda Legal have vowed to challenge measures like SB 613 in court. Megan Lambert, legal director at ACLU of Oklahoma, declared that the cross-sex hormone injections and sex-reassignment surgeries restricted by SB 613 are “necessary for basic survival” for children who struggle with gender issues, and claimed a ban would result in those children experiencing “anxiety, depression, and suicidality.”

However, SB 613’s supporters noted there is growing international consensus on the need to restrict transgender surgeries and cross-sex hormone treatments for youth who express gender confusion.

Medical officials in both Sweden and England have recently altered guidelines to restrict provision of those procedures to youth.

A review conducted by Do No Harm, a medical advocacy group, found that most European countries currently restrict use of cross-sex hormones on minor patients, and that sex-reassignment surgeries are not allowed until age 18 in many of those countries, including Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Luxembourg, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.

Many “de-transitioners”—individuals who identified as transgender for a time and now identify as their birth sex—have also spoken out in support of greater restrictions.

When Wyoming lawmakers recently conducted a hearing on legislation similar to Daniels’ SB 613, Luka Hein, a 21-year-old detransitioner who took cross-sex hormones and had breast removal surgery as a teenager, testified in favor of the bill.

Hein told lawmakers, “I was a young teenager with a history of mental health issues who had been groomed and preyed upon and exploited online. Yet the medical system did not address any of my underlying issues, or why I had distress, or why I felt the need to escape my body at such a young age. Instead, I was put down a path of permanent medicalization, one that I am trying to reverse but I am unable to due to these practices being non-reversible.”

Hein said medical officials coerced her parents into supporting her desire to undergo such life-altering treatments as a teenager.

“My parents were baited with the idea that I would kill myself if they didn’t go along with it, despite the fact that I had always maintained that I was never suicidal,” Hein said. “They were told by the doctors, ‘Would you rather have a living son or a dead daughter?’ This is not the words of a medical professional, but the words of an activist. As more and more people like me are stepping forward as victims of this care system, we need to realize that children cannot consent to this. They deserve to grow up whole and they deserve to grow up knowing that their body is not something that needs to be altered.”

When Oklahoma lawmakers voted last September to ban the OU Children’s Hospital from performing sex-reassignment surgeries on children, lawmakers said OU officials acknowledged that a large share of patients expressed regret in less than a year. Of five teenage patients who had received breast-removal surgeries from OU Children’s Hospital in the prior year, two expressed regret within a year’s time.

One reason medical officials have promoted transgender procedures for youth is that they are viewed as a “big money maker,” according to a video recording of one official associated with a Vanderbilt University clinic.

Daniels said it is better to err on the side of caution.

“The science on this is unclear and the subject of great argument,” Daniels said. “And there are places in the world where these procedures have been performed over the decades that they are pulling back. And we are hearing from people who have transitioned who regret their decision, particularly those who made this decision as a child.”

Ray Carter Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter

Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.

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