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Committee passes bill to ban most gender-affirming care for minors

Laura Guido - February 8, 2023

BOISE — After two hours of emotional and at-times contradictory testimony, the House Judiciary Committee voted on party lines to pass a bill that prohibits providing transgender care to those under 18.

HB 71, sponsored by Rep. Bruce Skaug, R-Nampa, amends state law that bans genital mutilation to include bans on providing puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones and sex reassignment surgeries to minors who have gender dysphoria.

Skaug told committee members on Tuesday that some gender-affirming treatment can cause sterilization, and in the past the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the right to procreate as a fundamental right.

Another author of the bill, Idaho Family Policy Center President Blaine Conzatti, told lawmakers that the legislation would protect “gender-confused” children.

Testimony on the bill was nearly evenly split between those in favor and against.

Several health care professionals testified on the bill, some who said that there wasn’t enough evidence that the gender-affirming care helped and that it could cause long-term complications, and others who said that the care has helped their patients and is done through evidence-based guidelines provided by major physicians organizations and associations.

Neil Ragan, a physician in Pocatello, said he has been providing transgender care in southeast Idaho for more than 10 years. He said patients who used hormones were able to successfully regain fertility.

“The evidence is quite clear that the puberty blockers do not shut the door on fertility, and in fact, cross-sex hormones don’t necessarily foreclose on that possibility either for those who are interested in fertility,” Ragan said.

Idaho Academy of Family Physicians Board President Brandon Mickelsen testified remotely in opposition to the bill, arguing it would take away options for physicians to treat their young transgender patients.

“Youth in Idaho who are struggling with gender roles and identity are in severe pain,” Mickelsen, who practices family medicine in Pocatello, said.

Katherine Aberle, an ear, nose and throat surgeon, testified in favor of the bill. She said at a previous practice she served at in Kansas, some of her colleagues performed top surgery, or removing breasts or chest tissue, and many of those patients were later referred to her for other issues.

“I can testify that medically altering their physical appearance is not the answer,” Aberle said.

A family practice doctor in Moscow, Idaho, Rodney Story, testified in support of the bill. He said there could be long-term consequences to the treatments. Story resigned from Pullman Regional Hospital in 2017 when it began performing transgender surgeries, the Washington Post and Samaritan Ministries reported.

“I think that generally surgery and transsex hormone therapy is not the right answer,” Story said. “In fact, we’ve known for a long time that counseling patients to hold on and hang in there is the best bet.”

Parents of transgender children testified on the positive effect that the treatments that would be banned in the bill had on their families. Many of them said their children struggled with suicidal ideation before beginning care.

Jennifer Blair said a transgender teenager under her family’s care was struggling with his mental health. After trying a number of different treatments, she said, he began hormone treatment.

“He was disassociating from his entire life,” Blair said. “After a few weeks on testosterone, this teen boy was beginning to return to life … some may argue that we should’ve waited until he was 18, but I’m confident by that point he would have been dead.”

Catherine Olschanoski said she’s been on a “joyful and perilous journey” with her child.

“My child became so despondent that they didn’t want to be alive,” Olschanoski said. “My hopes for my child are very simple. I want them to be happy and fulfilled, and for that to happen, they have to be alive.”

Committee members who supported the bill expressed concern about the potential impacts of the care on adolescents.

Rep. Chris Allgood, R-Caldwell, said he was concerned about the lack of long-term data on the impacts. He said he was supportive of those over 18 seeking that care but cautious about young people making those decisions.

“The fact that we’re talking about giving 13-year-olds the ability to change their life forever, scares me,” Allgood said.

Rep. John Gannon, D-Boise, argued the bill needed more work given that the scope of the bill covers more than just surgery.

“I can’t express enough my concern about suicide,” Gannon said.

Rep. David Cannon, R-Blackfoot, said that while he supported passing the bill out of the committee, he didn’t yet feel confident it was the correct solution to the issue, especially with regards to the argument that the decisions should be left to families and their doctors. He said his vote wasn’t binding, and it’s possible he may come to another conclusion when it goes to the floor for a full vote.

Rep. Chris Mathias, D-Boise, quoted Sen. Dan Foreman, R-Moscow, who said of an immunization bill that “the right for parents to choose what happens to their children is a seminal issue in the state of Idaho. It’s one of the reasons I live in the state of Idaho. Parental rights reigns supreme. This bill will strengthen that, and I fully support it.”

Mathias said he’s afraid if the bill passes, it will undermine public trust in government.

“It’s really hard for the public to trust us when we follow our principles selectively,” he said.

The bill passed on a 14-3 vote and will go to the House floor for full debate.

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