ATLANTA (AP) — A Georgia House committee on Tuesday sought to make it easier to sue doctors, and possibly charge them criminally, if they violate a proposed law barring some kinds of gender-affirming care in the state for anyone younger than 18.
The House Public Health Committee voted 12-10 along party lines to pass Senate Bill 140, with majority Republicans passing the measure. The bill, which advances to the full House for more debate, would ban most gender-confirming surgeries and hormone replacement therapies for people under 18. However, unlike laws adopted in some other states, it would still allow doctors to prescribe medicines to block puberty.
It's part of a nationwide effort by conservatives to restrict transgender athletes, gender-affirming care and drag shows.
“This bill is simply to pause and allow people, allow young people to be a little bit more mature before they make a decision that is 100% irreversible, because once you have the surgeries, there’s no going back," Sen. Carden Summers, a Cordele Republican sponsoring the bill, told the committee before a room overflowing with opponents.
Judges have temporarily blocked laws limiting the treatment of transgender youth in Arkansas and Alabama. In Georgia, opponents decry the state’s attempt to override what parents and physicians decide is best.
Elizabeth Downey told lawmakers that the bill "goes against all guidance and standards of care on the best treatment for patients with gender dysphoria." including her transgender daughter.
“We want our kids to be alive, to live like their peers, to be successful academically, and most importantly to be happy and know they are loved," Downey said.
Multiple witnesses warned that restricting care would lead to a rise in suicide among transgender youth.
“Every single representative who votes yes on this bill will have the blood of the children of the state on their hands, who they are supposed to represent," said Leonardo Hinnant, an 18-year-old transgender man who is a freshman at Georgia State University.
Sen. Ben Watson, a Savannah Republican and physician who helped write the bill, argued that leaving puberty-blocking drugs as an option strikes the right balance, saying: "This is the needle that we have threaded.”
Supporters say transgender youth can then decide to pursue further measures after they legally become adults. But opponents deride that position as harmful.
“My daughter cannot stay on blockers until she is 18," Downey argued, saying the girl needs to start hormone replacement at the appropriate time for puberty. "That is unsafe and will cause further complications medically and mentally.”
Watson also wrote the bill to specifically protect physicians from civil or criminal liability, putting the only penalties in the hands of medical licensing authorities. But the committee, on another 12-10 party-line vote, voted to strike that language. Republican Rep. Jodi Lott of Evans said she wanted people who decide that transitioning was a mistake to be able to sue.
“If a child has gone through this and then has regrets, they have the ability," Lott said.
Lott's amendment sparked a sharp exchange between Democrats who said it would criminalize medical care and Republicans who said the bill would otherwise let doctors escape prosecution.
“The impact of your amendment, as I read it, is it says that the physician shall be criminally responsible if he or she follows what I believe is the standard of care. I’m trying to figure out what crime that is,” said Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver, a Decatur Democrat.
Republican Rep. Barry Fleming, a Harlem Republican, said the amendment creates no new crimes, but would make doctors liable if they committed an existing crime.
“If a doctor commits a crime, they’ll be held liable for it,” Fleming said.
Some conservative groups had been pushing for harsher restrictions, including bans on puberty blockers and criminal penalties for doctors who violate the bill. Cole Muzio, the president of Frontline Policy Action, which advocates for conservative Christian causes, called the amendment “a welcome and positive development," but said his group still wants to eliminate access to puberty blockers and tighten an exemption for medical necessity.
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