Utah Gov. Signs Bill Banning Gender-Affirming Health Care For Trans Youth

The new law is the latest in a string of transphobic legislation that Republicans have been circulating in the state and across the country.

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox signed a bill on Saturday that bans gender-affirming health care for transgender youth, the latest in a string of transphobic legislation that Republicans have been circulating in the state and across the country.

Senate Bill 16 bans providers from performing surgical procedures on youth if the purpose is for gender-affirming care. The new law also creates a moratorium on future access to hormone treatment for new youth patients beginning on May 3, and grandfathers in existing youth patients currently receiving hormone treatment prior to that date.

The legislation directs the Utah Department of Health to conduct a “systematic review of the medical evidence” on gender-affirming treatments. The American Academy of Pediatrics has already stated that hormone therapy is appropriate for early adolescence onward, while gender-affirming procedures like “top surgery” ― which helps to match a trans person’s chest with their gender identity ― are appropriate for adults.

“Legislation that impacts our most vulnerable youth requires careful consideration and deliberation,” the Republican governor said in a statement. “While not a perfect bill, we are grateful for Sen. [Michael] Kennedy’s more nuanced and thoughtful approach to this terribly divisive issue. More and more experts, states and countries around the world are pausing these permanent and life-altering treatments for new patients until more and better research can help determine the long-term consequences.”

Prior to the governor signing the bill, the ACLU’s chapter in Utah urged Cox to veto the proposed legislation banning gender-affirming health care. In a letter to the governor, the organization said the bill would have damaging effects on medical care and violate constitutional rights.

“Trans kids are kids ― they deserve to grow up without constant political attacks on their lives and health care; we will defend that right,” the civil rights group tweeted after Cox signed the bill.

The Republican governor is no stranger to anti-trans legislation. Last year, Cox vetoed a ban on trans students playing sports for the team that aligns with their gender identity. While he “struggles to understand so much of it ... I always try to err on the side of kindness, mercy and compassion,” he said at the time.

Utah’s GOP legislature overrode Cox’s veto, but a judge reversed the ban in August.

Republican lawmakers across the country are flooding their state legislatures with proposals that threaten bodily autonomy, including abortion access and gender-affirming health care. Utah is just one of almost a dozen states where those lawmakers have introduced dozens of bills attempting to restrict trans health care access.

According to the World Professional Association for Transgender Health, teenagers experiencing gender dysphoria can begin taking hormones at age 14, and can have certain surgeries at 15 or 17. While the group acknowledged there are potential risks, it said last year that it was unethical to withhold such treatments to youth when it reduces suicide risk.

“We know many families are frightened and wondering what will happen next. We are here for you, and are seeking solutions,” Equality Utah, the state’s largest LGBTQ rights group, said on Saturday.

“We are working with our legal team to assess the full ramifications of this bill. What is clear though, is that a legal challenge is inevitable,” the group continued. “This is not the end of this work. In many ways, it has just begun.”

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