On Saturday, Utah Republican Gov. Spencer Cox signed legislation banning gender-affirming surgeries for transgender youth and placing an indefinite moratorium on hormone treatment for minors who haven’t yet been diagnosed with gender dysphoria.
While Utah is the first state of 2023 to limit gender-affirming care, it is not likely the last: A barrage of state bills brought by Republican lawmakers this year seeks to control the lives of transgender children. More than 150 such bills are being considered in at least 25 states, according to the New York Times, including proposals to ban transitional health care, restrict drag shows, and prevent teachers from using the names and pronouns that match the gender identities of their students.
Some of the bills, which are backed by longtime GOP operatives and Christian nationalist groups, have nearly identical language, suggesting a common template. Those organizing the legislative push include the Alliance Defending Freedom, the Family Policy Alliance, the American Principles Project, and the Heritage Foundation.
“This is a political winner,” said Terry Schilling, president of the American Principles Project, a conservative think tank, according to the Times. Schilling argued that more midterm voters might have come out had Republicans not “shied away” from the issue.
Last year, Gov. Cox made headlines when he vetoed a bill that would have limited the participation of transgender kids in school sports. But in a statement about the recent legislation, he argued for pausing “permanent and life-altering treatments.” He added, “While we understand our words will be of little comfort to those who disagree with us, we sincerely hope that we can treat our transgender families with more love and respect as we work to better understand the science and consequences behind these procedures.”
Major medical organizations, including the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Psychiatric Association, agree that gender-affirming care is key to improving health outcomes for transgender individuals, especially youth. Such care is associated with dramatically reduced rates of suicide, depression and anxiety, and substance use.
In a letter on Friday, the ACLU of Utah urged Cox to veto the bill. “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 read. “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.”
Sen. Mike Kennedy, the Republican lawmaker and family physician who sponsored the bill, expects the legislation to be litigated. “I’m afraid that I’m going to be working on this for the rest of my political life,” he said on the state Senate floor.
A legal review by Utah’s state legislature, obtained by the Salt Lake Tribune, suggested that the legislation could be deemed unconstitutional if brought before a federal court.