ATLANTA (AP) — Most gender-affirming surgeries and hormone replacement therapies for transgender people under 18 would be banned in Georgia under a measure that received House approval Thursday.
Doctors could still prescribe medicines to block puberty under the bill that was approved 96-75. It’s part of a nationwide effort by conservatives to restrict transgender athletes, gender-affirming care and drag shows.
The vote on Senate Bill 140 came after raw and emotional appeals from opponents in a debate that began with barely an hour's warning, reflecting a decision by Republican leaders to push the measure through rapidly. Because a House committee amended the bill on Tuesday to expose physicians who violate the law to lawsuits or possible criminal charges, it goes back to the Senate for more debate.
“To all the children in our state who are going to be negatively impacted, Please don’t lose hope. Please don’t give up. Please don’t kill yourself,” Rep. Karla Drenner, an Avondale Estates Democrat who was the first openly gay state lawmaker in the Deep South when she joined the House in 2001, said through tears, citing fears of a higher suicide rate among transgender youth. “This world is worth it. We need you.”
Opponents said the measure would hurt transgender children by requiring physicians to violate medical standards of care. They also said it would block parents from doing what they think is best for their children.
Republicans denied that they wished anyone harm, saying they had the best interest of children at heart, and wanted people to be able to obtain counseling. Supporters insisted the Georgia measure would protect children from making irreversible decisions before they have fully matured.
“As parents, our role is to help our kids navigate through the confusion of growing up in a society that is often oversexualized and wants to place children in situations to make adult decisions they are not capable of making,” said Rep. Josh Bonner, a Fayetteville Republican who presented the bill.
Democrats questioned lawmakers' decision to override physician recommendations.
“What patient would prefer their care be dictated by a politician, rather than a doctor?” said Rep. Michelle Au, a Johns Creek Democrat and physician.
But Republican Rep. Mark Newton, an Augusta physician, said that it is appropriate for the state to rein in "the uncontrolled expansion of early treatment for gender dysphoria”
“Doctors do sometimes require state involvement to do what’s best to protect Georgians," Newton said.
Rep. Will Wade, a Dawsonville Republican, argued that it had become too easy for children to obtain hormones or surgery and suggested the willingness to provide such procedures would be be proven wrong over the long run.
“The ideas that a child’s declaration of their gender identity should clear any obstacles to irreversible gender transition surgery stems more from extreme political orthodoxy than from what’s in the best interest, the long-term interests, of the child,” Wade said.
Wade, who as a floor leader carries bills for Gov. Brian Kemp, told reporters that the Republican gave Wade the green light to speak for the bill, reflecting Kemp's "history of supporting children and protecting children in this state.”
Wade initially predicted Kemp would sign the bill, but later retracted that statement. A spokesperson for Kemp declined to comment.
Democrats said Republicans were catering to GOP voters and trying to protect themselves from primary election challenges.
“Know that you are passing this bill out of your political self interest, to rile up your base," said Democratic Whip Sam Park of Lawrenceville. "Don’t deceive yourself on this bill.”
Judges have temporarily blocked laws limiting the treatment of transgender youth in Arkansas and Alabama, and opponents Thursday suggested that such a law would be found unconstitutional by federal and state courts in Georgia.
Governors in Mississippi, Utah and South Dakota have signed similar bills.
Supporters say transgender youth can then decide to pursue further measures after they are adults. But opponents say such an enforced pause is harmful.
Some conservative groups have been pushing for harsher restrictions, including bans on puberty blockers and criminal penalties for doctors who violate the bill.
Follow Jeff Amy on Twitter at http://twitter.com/jeffamy.