SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah’s Republican-dominated Legislature on Friday gave final approval for a measure that would ban youth from receiving gender-affirming health care like surgery or puberty blockers, bypassing concerns raised by opponents about the measure’s impact on transgender children and teens in the state.
The bill now goes to the desk of Republican Gov. Spencer Cox, who hasn’t yet publicly taken a position on the legislation.
It comes as legislators in at least 18 states consider similar bills targeting health care for young transgender people. Montana lawmakers discussed a measure there Friday.
The bills have drawn strong opposition from critics who say it is irresponsible to meddle in important decisions that should be left to parents and their children.
Utah’s measure prohibits transgender surgery for youth and disallows hormone treatments for minors who have not yet been diagnosed with gender dysphoria. The state’s Legislature made the topic a top priority, hearing the first draft just two days after the session started earlier this month.
Supporters in Utah’s Republican-controlled Legislature argued that the measure is necessary because of the life-altering impacts of the treatments. They have also questioned if there’s enough scientific study about such treatments.
The World Professional Association for Transgender Health issued guidance this year eliminating age minimums for providing gender-affirming health care for transgender adolescents. It encourages an individualized approach in determining when hormone therapy and surgery can take place.
The ACLU of Utah sent a letter Friday to Cox urging him to veto the legislation, saying it was deeply concerned about “the damaging and potentially catastrophic effects this law will have on people’s lives and medical care and the grave violations of people’s constitutional rights it will cause.”
The letter added: By cutting off medical treatment supported by every major medical association in the United States, the bill compromises the health and well-being of adolescents with gender dysphoria. It ties the hands of doctors and parents by restricting access to the only evidence-based treatment available for this serious medical condition and impedes their ability to fulfill their professional obligations.”
Utah state Sen. Mike Kennedy, a Republican family doctor sponsoring Utah’s proposal, has said government oversight is necessary for vital health care policy related to gender and youth.
Senate minority leader Luz Escamilla, a Democrat from Salt Lake City, was emotional when she voted against the bill, which she said could cause harm to families, KUTV reported.
“We see you and we love your beautiful children,” Escamilla said. “We will continue to work … for good public policy and try to mitigate impact into their lives, and this is just the beginning of a process.”
Cox declined comment Friday through spokeswoman Emma Williams. Cox has previously indicated he agrees with the notion that transgender youth probably shouldn’t decide about surgery until they’re adults and that he had some concerns about puberty blockers but was still researching that issue.
He vetoed a measure last year that banned transgender girls from playing female high schools sports, saying he erred on the side of “kindness, mercy, and compassion” but the GOP-dominated Legislature overrode that veto.