Kansas Legislature sends Democratic governor bill banning under-18 transgender health care

TOPEKA — The Kansas Legislature voted to send an intensely divisive bill Wednesday to Gov. Laura Kelly forbidding gender transition surgery, prescribing of puberty blockers and delivery of other gender-affirming care by medical professionals in Kansas to people younger than 18.

The House and Senate engaged in separate emotional debates before adopting the version of Senate Bill 233 negotiated by three members of both chambers. The bill cleared the House 82-39, which was two votes short of the two-thirds majority that would be required to overturn a governor’s veto. In the Senate, the 27-13 vote met that benchmark.

In the past, Kelly opposed the Legislature’s attempt to micromanage health care decisions of families, whether it involved abortion or transitioning. She repeatedly vetoed a bill restricting transgender athletes to sports teams according to the declared gender at birth.

Defenders of the legislation argued the prevailing science indicated people transitioning before their brains fully developed were at risk of cognitive, sexual and development problems and that medical interventions, including removal of body parts, was the equivalent of child abuse. Critics said the bill was a potentially lethal encroachment into profoundly personal decisions of bodily autonomy that should be made by children, parents and medical professionals rather than politicians in Topeka.

“We want to give these kids a chance so later on they can make this decision,” said Rep. Brenda Landwehr, R-Wichita. “Not harm them for the rest of their lives.”

Senate President Ty Masterson, also a Wichita Republican, said supermajority support for the bill reflected the firm position of Senate Republicans who believed “radical transgender ideology and the mutilation of minors is not legal nor welcome in Kansas.”

‘Quite a bit of hypocrisy’

In terms of the bill, House and Senate negotiators altered the measure to grant youth until Dec. 31, 2024, to be weaned off puberty blockers, testosterone, estrogen or other prescribed medications related to care for a person undergoing transition. Some of those individuals will have been on the drugs for years.

The bill would forbid a recipient of state funding — gender assignment surgery has been performed at the University of Kansas Medical Center, Landwehr said — to use that funding for medication or surgery to treat a child’s “perception of gender or sex that is inconsistent with a child’s sex.” An entity or individual receiving state funds for treatment of children for psychological conditions, including gender dysphoria, could not promote or advocate for medication or surgery as a treatment for a child.

The legislation forward to the governor would view violations of the law as justification for revocation of a professional license. Also, health care professionals engaging in forbidden treatment would be legally liable for that decision for 10 years after the patient turned 18 and liability insurance held by the professional wouldn’t be valid in such cases.

Rep. Heather Meyer, an Overland Park Democrat and mother to a transgender child, struggled to find words to describe her dismay with the Republican majority’s single-minded focus on ostracizing transgender youth. As she stood at the lectern in the front of the House chamber, she said it was astonishing that vetted research, advice of national medical associations and testimony of transgender teenagers and their parents was largely ignored by a majority in the Legislature.

“I’m coming to this from both personal and professional experience. I am tired of having this debate,” said Meyer, pointing to hypocrisy of lawmakers who championed parental rights only when it fit their political agenda. “With bills like this, you’re taking away their personal autonomy, their freedom to act as a parent. The state is becoming their nanny. For some reason, there’s quite a bit of hypocrisy when it comes to legislation involving transgender children and even adults.”

“I’m trying to keep it together,” she said. “I just need you guys to understand how incredibly and absolutely horrifying it is to watch this happening in our state.”

‘Kansas children will die’

Senate Democratic Leader Dinah Sykes of Lenexa said Republican legislative leadership insisted upon infringing on the right of Kansans to determine what health care was best for them. She said Kansas children and parents would face the consequence of decisions to place political gain above welfare of vulnerable children.

“Kansas children will die if this becomes law,” Sykes said. “Their decision to ban medically necessary, safe, effective health care is going to cost Kansas kids their lives.”

Sen. Beverly Gossage, the Eudora Republican and chair of the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee, said Kansas youth were overwhelmed by a broad social media campaign that encouraged them to follow a path to gender transition. She said individuals who regretted their decision to live their life from the perspective of a different gender would have testified before the Legislature about their regret, but were justifiably threatened by the possibility of being publicly harassed or shunned.

However, Democratic Rep. Susan Ruiz of Shawnee said proponents of bills targeting transgender individuals appeared driven by a quest to convince certain families to move to another state.

“Maybe that’s the point,” she said. “Maybe many in this room don’t really care. Maybe that’s what you want. There are a lot of people who are going to be affected by this bill.”

Ruiz said families would inevitably come to her with fundamental questions about the intent of certain political conservatives: “Why is the state against us? Why does the state hate us?”

Rep. Clarke Sanders, a Salina Republican, responded to suggestions that supporters of the legislation operated from a dark place of hatred for people different than themselves. He said the goal of any legislator was to find truth about complex public policy issues and settle on the best decision possible under the circumstances.

“The one thing that I hope for is, if what I consider true differs from what you consider to be true, that you don’t think I’m acting out of some hateful motive. I am not,” he said.


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