PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — South Dakota lawmakers in the House Health and Services Committee on Tuesday advanced a bill along party lines that would ban certain health care for transgender kids in the state.
House Bill 1080, which supporters call the “Help not Harm” bill, would prohibit certain types of care for transgender minors in South Dakota. Republican Representative Bethany Soye, the prime sponsor of the bill, told lawmakers that medical providers have become “increasingly bold” about this type of treatment.
The bill would prohibit three things.
“The use of puberty blockers to stop healthy development, the prescription of cross-sex hormones, which often leave children sterilized, and the irreversible surgeries that leave a child’s body permanently damaged,” Soye told the committee.
The bill would not impact birth control, Soye added.
While introducing the bill, Soye said the legislation was personal.
“As a child I wanted to be a boy. I wore boy clothes and I came up with a name for myself, and in third grade, I wrote that name on all my class assignments,” Soye said. “However, my parents didn’t take me in for chemical treatments; they just supported me, loved me and allowed me to experience childhood. I went through natural puberty and changed to loving being a girl.”
Opponents of the bill included the American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota, a transgender teenager, legal and medical professionals and the South Dakota Medical Association.
“Often in these chambers, we hear about freedom, liberty, parental rights and limited government. HB 1080 is the antithesis of those concepts,” South Dakota State Medical Association lobbyist Justin Bell said. “And such would intrude on the patient-physician relationship, the parent and child relationship and would prevent physicians from providing evidence-based medical treatment to minor patients despite the wishes of the patient and the parents of that child.”
Two physicians testified in support of the bill saying that there are no long-term studies on the “adverse effects” of gender-affirming treatment. Retired physician Dr. Don Oliver told lawmakers that he practiced pediatrics in Rapid City and is “embarrassed” by the medical profession.
“I believe this bill is a needed and wise move by state government to provide protection to our young people. After all, one of the primary functions of the government is to protect the weak, the vulnerable and the poor,” Oliver said.
California doctor Michael Laidlaw, who testifies across the country in support of similar bills, said there is a risk that comes with these treatments that could include damage to fertility, disease or death.
Dr. Dan Heinemann, a USD professor and family practice physician, pushed back on this during his testimony saying that puberty blockers are reversible.
Making it personal
Speaking against the bill was 16-year-old Elliot Morehead, who told lawmakers that they are transgender and proud and that this bill would prevent Elliot from receiving the care they spent months trying to receive.
“I’m in a body that has a couple more steps to being a hundred percent me,” Morehead said. “HB 1080 will deny that opportunity I’ve worked hard to achieve. After six months of working with my therapist, I have finally received my HRT letter. Which, FYI, only allows me to schedule an appointment and maybe start testing and maybe start talking about gender-affirming treatment.”
Dr. Anne Dilenschneider, a mental health counselor who works with transgender youth, testified that the process to be prescribed hormones or other kinds of care can take months or even years before they begin to be treated. She told committee members that mental health and medical professionals that work with transgender patients must follow over 200 pages of Standards of Care and complete assessments for the child. She added that insurance companies strictly limit the treatment of minors.
“House Bill 1080 is not needed in South Dakota,” Dilenschneider said.
Those in support of HB 1080 included three people who had formerly identified as transgender but have since detransitioned. Billy Burleigh from Twin Falls, Idaho said that in his 20s he sought “help” to become a girl and medically transitioned in his late 20s. Burleigh said he had several complications relating to his surgery stating, “I had more problems at that point than I did when I started on the road to transition.”
Burleigh said that he wished instead of receiving medical care, he would have received mental health care.
Dilenschneider said transgender youth in the state do receive such care and work closely with their parents, mental health experts and a medical team for years before any medical intervention is done.
The Reverend Lauren Stanley of Pierre told the committee that the bill will negatively impact kids’ mental health.
“This will cause them to have suicidal ideation,” Stanley said. “This will cause them to attempt to end their own lives. This will cause them to die. I sat before you and other committees a few years ago and I asked this question: if one child on our reservations die because of this bill, are you coming to the wakes?”
When asked by Democrat Erin Healy about the number of children who regretted transitioning in South Dakota, Soye could not provide any examples of such instances happening in the state.
“We do have evidence that it’s happening here in South Dakota,” Soye said of minors transitioning in South Dakota. “We had a newspaper article that showed that an eight-year-old was getting cross-sex hormones. We have a request for a name change that shows that a 13-year-old is getting cross-sex hormones.”
Sioux Falls doctor Nicholas Torbert spoke in opposition of HB 1080 and said that if transgender people do not receive gender-affirming care or receive improper care, it can result in increased anxiety, depression and self-harm.
“A one size fits all policy will harm patients,” Torbert said of the bill.
Torbert also spoke against the portion of the bill that would revoke the licensure of physicians who provide such care saying that South Dakota doctors swore an oath to “do no harm” and this bill would force them to break that.
He added that a recent study showed that less than one percent of those who had transitioned regretted it years later.
Discrimination or regulation?
Samantha Chapman with the American Civil Liberties Union told lawmakers that if passed, the bill would violate the United States Constitution in three ways: discrimination based on sex, discrimination based on transgender identity and a violation of parental rights.
Alabama and Arkansas passed similar legislation, which has since been blocked in court, Chapman added.
Democrat Representative Kameron Nelson asked Soye whether this bill would impact anyone trying to receive the treatments listed in the bill or just transgender youth. Soye said no, it would only impact people seeking care to “change your biological sex.” When asked whether this would be considered sex-based discrimination, Soye said it would not be because it applies to everyone.
Soye said that she worked with legal experts when drafting this bill. “They have affirmed that this will standup.”
She then added that every industry in South Dakota is regulated and that the medical field is not above such rules.
“The medical community can get things wrong,” Soye said.
Former South Dakota Attorney General Roger Tellinghuisen spoke against HB 1080.
“We believe [HB 1080] to be an unconscionable attack on transgender children,” Tellinghuisen said.
Nelson asked Tellinghuisen what would happen if a suit was brought against the state. Tellinghuisen said the Attorney General would defend the bill and it would likely go to a federal district court. Depending on the ruling, the losing side could appeal to a circuit court of appeals and the process could take years and thousands of dollars on both sides.
After an extensive discussion, the committee voted 11-2, along party lines, to advance the bill to the House floor where it will be debated once again.