A bill banning most gender-affirming health care for transgender minors in Utah is on the way to Governor Spencer Cox’s desk after Republican lawmakers in the Utah House and Senate have passed a bill preventing doctors from providing such care.
The Utah Senate passed the bill in a 20-8 vote on Friday morning. While the chamber had already passed the bill once, they needed to concur with changes the Utah House made on Thursday. Sens. David Hinkins, R-Orangeville, and Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, joined with the chamber’s six Democrats in voting against the bill. Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City, who has been a vocal critic of the bill was absent from Friday’s vote.
Cox now has 10 days to make a decision on whether to sign or veto the bill or let it go into effect without his signature. Cox previously indicated he would sign the legislation. A spokesperson for the governor said Friday they have not yet taken an official position on the bill. Any veto would likely be overridden by lawmakers in short order, as the bill passed with more than 2/3rds support in the House and Senate.
Senate Bill 16 — sponsored by Sen. Mike Kennedy, R-Alpine — bars doctors from prescribing hormone therapy for minors who have been diagnosed with “gender dysphoria,” a medical diagnosis of mental distress caused by a conflict between a person’s gender identity and the gender they were assigned at birth.
The pause, the bill says, is to allow the Utah Department of Health and Human Services to look at data surrounding the use of those medical treatments and make recommendations for policy changes to lawmakers, but does not set a deadline for the completion of that analysis.
Kennedy bristled at the suggestion he was motivated to sponsor the bill by anything other than concern for the well-being of Utah children and families.
“I will say from my heart, and the heart of everybody I know here on the hill, whether they agree with this bill or not, compassion and love are at the base of all of this,” Kennedy said, urging his colleagues to give final approval to the bill.
“I respect the fact that this is not a perfect piece of legislation, and that we are imperfect people, and that this is an imperfect process,” Kennedy added.
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Senate Minority Leader Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City, became emotional as she registered her vote against the bill.
“We’ve received so many emails, texts and phone calls from parents begging for their families and children, many of them are children I’ve known for years. We see you, and we love your beautiful children and we will continue to work to mitigate the impact of this into their lives,” Escamilla said.
The moratorium on hormone treatments for transgender youth, and only applies to new patients, will go into effect immediately if Cox signs the bill. The immediate effective date was a last-minute change added by Republicans in the Utah House on Thursday.
The bill also bans surgeries on minors that are part of a sex change. Youth who are seeking many of those same surgeries, such as breast augmentation, would not be barred from undergoing them, so long as it’s not part of a sex change.
Legislative lawyers have warned the bill might be found unconstitutional if challenged in court.
Kennedy, a physician and lawyer, acknowledged on the Senate floor on Friday that the legislation is “highly likely” to see a lawsuit.