MADISON – Wisconsin Republican lawmakers are again seeking to put limits on transgender children, this time by barring doctors from performing surgeries to change the sex of anyone under the age of 18.
Eight Republican lawmakers have proposed a bill that seeks to prevent children and teenagers from undergoing such surgeries and allows parents to sue doctors who perform the procedures.
The legislation mirrors proposals in at least 15 states and is being proposed months after GOP lawmakers sought to bar transgender athletes from participating in school sports for girls and women.
The bill allows district attorneys to prosecute doctors who ignore the ban and cuts public funding to facilities that offer the surgeries. Health insurers also would be banned from covering such procedures under the proposal.
In a memo to colleagues, the bill authors characterized transgender children as needing help that the legislation would provide.
"Children who identify as transgender deserve help, not harm. When a child is struggling, he or she needs compassionate care," the authors wrote.
"People who struggle with other kinds of dysphorias, such as anorexia, are not enabled in altering their bodies as they desire. Instead, care is provided to help them find healthy ways to manage their tension."
Megin McDonell, executive director of LGBTQ advocacy group Fair Wisconsin, said the proposal is "the most extreme political attack yet on transgender children in Wisconsin."
"Not only does it display a fundamental lack of understanding of transgender children, it also appears to criminalize best practice medical care for transgender youth that is backed by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, and other leading medical authorities," she said.
James Madara, a medical doctor who leads the American Medical Association, wrote in a letter to the National Governors Association in April that approving such proposals could endanger the health of transgender children and represented a "dangerous intrusion" by government into the practice of medicine.
"Empirical evidence has demonstrated that trans and non-binary gender identities are normal variations of human identity and expression," Madara wrote to the association's director.
"For gender diverse individuals, standards of care and accepted medically necessary services that affirm gender or treat gender dysphoria may include mental health counseling, non-medical social transition, gender-affirming hormone therapy, and/or gender-affirming surgeries."
"Every major medical association in the United States recognizes the medical necessity of transition-related care for improving the physical and mental health of transgender people."
McDonell said she fielded calls and messages on Tuesday from parents, children, clergy members and medical professionals about the proposal.
Bill author Rep. Scott Allen, R-Waukesha, said transgender children are not old enough to make an informed decision about whether to change their sex through surgery.
"Wisconsin has a compelling interest in protecting its citizens from harm, particularly children, and the purpose of this bill is to protect children from the irreversible effects of harmful interventions when they are too young to meaningfully consent," Allen said. "This is why we have child welfare and child labor laws."
Allen said the limits set forth in the legislation would join those already in state law for minors, like barring them from getting tattoos, drinking alcohol or buying cigarettes.
In Wisconsin, we care about our children," he said. "We want them to receive the love and the help that they deserve without being subject to pressure from adults in professional or advocacy groups who are seeking to advance an agenda.”
Arkansas became the first state to enact such limits in April 2021 after the state's GOP-controlled Legislature voted to override Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson's veto of a bill that prohibits doctors from providing such surgeries or hormone therapy and puberty hormone blockers.
The Williams Institute, a think tank at the UCLA School of Law, found in 2021 that about 45,000 transgender children would be affected by the measures proposed nationwide limiting medical care and procedures.
Two bills proposed in Wisconsin last spring to bar transgender athletes from joining school sports for females were passed in the state Assembly but have not been taken up in the state Senate.
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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Wisconsin GOP joins effort to ban surgeries for transgender youth