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Idaho panel approves a bill that would make medical care for trans youth a felony


Idaho panel approves a bill that would make medical care for trans youth a felony

Feb 07, 2023 | 10:19 pm ET
By Audrey Dutton
Idaho panel approves a bill that would make medical care for trans youth a felony
Eve Devitt, 17, speaks to the Idaho House Judiciary, Rules and Administration committee on Feb. 7. (Screenshot via Idaho In Session)

Republican lawmakers in an Idaho House committee voted Tuesday to restrict the rights of parents to decide on, and physicians to provide, medical care for transgender Idahoans under age 18.

The Idaho House Judiciary, Rules and Administration committee voted 14-3 along party lines to send the bill to the House with a “do pass” recommendation. That sets it up for consideration and a vote on the House floor in the coming days of the legislative session.

House Bill 71 makes it a felony to provide gender-affirming care, a crime punishable by up to 10 years in prison. It aligns the medical treatments with female genital mutilation — in which a girl must have her clitoris and other parts of her vulva removed as part of a ritual.

Some who testified, and some committee members themselves, noted that the votes conflict with the GOP lawmakers’ longtime support for parental rights and medical freedom — on issues such as immunizations, child protection and child welfare cases, sex education, masks and Idaho’s statutory protection for the practice of “faith healing.”

The bill, brought forward by Rep. Bruce Skaug, R-Nampa — and co-sponsored by Sen. Lori Den Hartog, R-Meridian — would make it a felony to provide gender-affirming hormone therapies and surgical interventions. The bill is also supported by Blaine Conzatti, Idaho Family Policy Center president and lobbyist.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the standard of gender-affirming care for transgender children and teens includes “social affirmation” as the person begins to dress, use pronouns and make other changes associated with gender. Trans youth also may need mental health care. For some, medical care also may include surgeries, hormones or “puberty blockers” that hold off the physical changes of puberty, such as facial hair growth and breast development.

Parents of Idaho transgender children, doctors, mental health care providers, residents and at least one transgender teen lined up to give testimony for two hours leading up to the committee’s debate and vote on the bill.

The list of people who wanted to testify was so long, it would have taken days to get through everyone, said Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, who chaired the committee’s hearing.

Eve Devitt, 17, is a transgender girl whose medical care would be affected by the bill, she said. Devitt also testified in the 2022 legislative session against a similar bill that Skaug sponsored then.

“Since I started estrogen almost three whole years ago, my mental health has gotten significantly better,” Devitt told the committee Tuesday. “I’ve been able to get myself off of a cliff that I wasn’t sure if I would ever find myself off of. I feel so much better and more complete with myself. In less than 24 hours, I will be going on a plane to go to a consultation for SRS — or sexual reassignment surgery — which is planned to be taking place in a little over a year. I see this as my final step into the body that I should have been born into. This bill threatens to not only bar me from receiving this care, but also from accessing the hormones that have single handedly not only improved but saved my life.”

If you care about the rights for parents to choose what is right for their kids, like you stated you did just earlier today, then you will vote against this bill.

– Eve Devitt, in testimony to the Idaho House Judiciary, Rules and Administration Committee on Feb. 7

Several people who testified pointed out the conflict between the bill and the GOP lawmakers’ statements of support for parental rights and medical freedom. So, too, did members of the committee.

Rep. Chris Mathias, D-Boise, told the committee that he believed the legislation is emblematic of a crisis in American democracy. 

“It is really hard for the public to trust us when we use our principles and we follow them selectively,” Mathias said. “… I’m afraid if we pass this bill, it is going to further undermine the public’s trust in us.”

Rep. David Cannon, R-Blackfoot, said he was grappling with the inconsistencies as well.

“The criticism that we, who talk about leaving decisions up to families and parents, I mean, that hits home, and I don’t know exactly what to do with that,” Cannon said. “But in the end, you know, you got to go with your gut, and I am going to support this today.”

Cannon voted to advance the bill. 

So did Rep. Julianne Young, R-Blackfoot. She explained to the committee why she believed it should pass.

“As a mom, and somebody who’s the biggest mama bear in the building when my kids are around, we do set some limits on parental rights,” Young said. “And I think, ultimately, that’s the question that this committee is struggling with.”

Idaho law says that some choices are abusive or inappropriate, “even for a parent,” Young said. “… It’s not that we’re being selective; it’s that we’re trying to identify the bounds and the limits of that particular principle, because all of these principles come into conflict with each other at some time or another. So, just for what it’s worth, for me as a mom, as I weigh this issue, really that’s what it comes down to for me, is determining what are the appropriate bounds and limits of that parental authority.”

Several health care providers testified to the House Judiciary, Rules and Administration Committee Tuesday.

They included Idaho providers who both opposed and supported the bill.

The Idaho Academy of Family Physicians, which represents hundreds of Idaho doctors, opposes the bill, according to testimony.

Several health care providers from other states offered their opinions — including an ear-nose-throat physician from Missouri, a Tennessee child and adolescent psychiatrist who has weighed in on other states’ transgender-care legislation; and a doctor from Georgia who was “discredited as an expert” on trans health care in a 2020 court ruling, according to the Pennsylvania Capital-Star.