Controversial Georgia bill banning some care for transgender youths clears Assembly

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The Republican-controlled state Senate gave final passage Tuesday to a bill that will ban transgender youths in Georgia from receiving hormone replacement therapy and gender-affirming surgery.

Senate Bill 140 passed on a party line 31-21 vote and now moves to Gov. Brian Kemp’s desk for his signature.

The controversial bill drew fierce criticism from legislative Democrats, parents of transgender youth, and major medical societies as it went through the legislative committee process.

Hospitals could lose their permits and doctors their licenses for providing such hormone therapy or gender-affirming care. Last week, a House committee amended the bill to remove immunity from civil and criminal liability for doctors who provide such services.

The bill does allow transgender youths to take puberty blockers. It also provides exceptions for youth with certain specified medical conditions who need hormone replacement therapy and certain surgeries.

“Senate Bill 140 is a very challenging bill. It has been something that has been heavy on the hearts for everyone in this chamber,” said Sen. Ben Watson, R-Savannah, a medical doctor who cosponsored the bill. “I think we have struck a good balance here.”

“We’re doing the right thing by … truly protecting the lives of children by not offering the life-altering drugs and, of course, the surgeries that are completely irreversible,” added Sen. Carden Summers, R-Cordele, the bill’s chief sponsor.

Democrats argued the bill will harm transgender youth and interfere with parents’ rights and doctors’ judgement.

“Our children are at risk when they are not given the hormone therapy they need to properly manage their gender dysphoria,” said Sen. Kim Jackson, R-Stone Mountain.

Gender dysphoria is a recognized medical condition that results in mental distress because of a mismatch between the sex a person was born with and their gender identity, the person’s own sense of their gender. The condition is listed in a standard psychiatric reference, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

“When the overwhelming [majority of] medical professionals have come in and said ‘This does not help children. This harms children, this increases their likelihood of committing suicide,’ and yet you continue to push forward, I’m clear it’s no longer about children anymore. It’s about something different than that,” Jackson added. “This really is about us bullying children in order to score political points.”

Democrats also criticized Republicans for interfering with parents’ rights while strongly supporting parents’ rights on other measures, including the Parents’ of Rights education bill the General Assembly passed last year.

“Today, we are debating the rights of parents to protect their children’s mental health and their physical wellness,” said Sen. Nikki Merritt, D-Grayson.

“Our chamber has fought restrictions on freedom of medical choice throughout the pandemic … but we continue to take away the freedom of medical professionals and citizens to make choices about their health. I’m getting whiplash, which one do you want? Parental rights or not?”

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.