ATLANTA -- A bill banning most gender-affirming surgeries and hormone replacement therapies in Georgia for transgender people under 18 is headed to Gov. Brian Kemp's desk after senators gave it final passage on Tuesday.
Senators voted 31-21 along party lines with Republicans pushing through Senate Bill 140, despite impassioned pleas from Democrats and LGBTQ advocates against what has become the most fiercely contested bill of Georgia's 2023 legislative session
It’s part of a nationwide effort by conservatives to restrict transgender athletes, gender-affirming care and drag shows. Governors in Mississippi, Utah and South Dakota have signed similar bills. Missouri's Senate on Tuesday advanced a pair of bills to prohibit gender transitioning health care treatments for minors and restrict them from competing in sports.
Andrew Isenhour, a spokesperson for Kemp, wouldn't say if the Republican governor would sign the bill into law. Opponents said they believe the bill would be an unconstitutional infringement on parents' rights and the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia threatened Tuesday to sue if the bill becomes law. Judges have at least temporarily blocked laws limiting the treatment of transgender youth in Arkansas and Alabama.
Doctors could still be able to prescribe medicines to block puberty under the Georgia bill, but Republicans say restrictions on other treatments are needed to prevent children from making decisions they will regret later.
“I think we have struck a good balance here," said Republican Sen. Ben Watson, a Savannah physician who helped draft the measure. “What we’re doing is preventing minors, who are under 18 years old, from having irreversible changes in their lives.”
But opponents say the measure is founded on disinformation and a desire to open a new front in the culture war to please conservative Republican voters, arguing that it attacks vulnerable children and intrudes on private medical decisions.
“Broadly speaking this really is about us bullying children to score political points, and that to me is extraordinarily disheartening," said Sen. Kim Jackson, a Stone Mountain Democrat and the Senate's first-ever openly gay member.
The Senate had to vote again on the bill after approving it earlier because the House amended it to remove a clause that specifically shielded physicians from criminal and civil liability. That change had been pushed for by conservative groups who want people who later regret their treatment to be able to sue their doctor, although it's unclear how large that group might be.
Opponents said the measure would hurt transgender children and require physicians to violate medical standards of care. They also accused Republicans of being hypocrites by abandoning previous advocacy of parents' rights to make choices.
“The rule does seem to be that we are for parental rights when parents make decisions we agree with, and when they make decisions we don’t agree with, we outlaw them," said Sen. Elena Parent, an Atlanta Democrat.
Opponents criticized Republicans for not listening to heavy lobbying in recent weeks from transgender youth and their parents, saying they were further marginalizing a group already prone to taking their own lives at disturbingly high rates.
“We will go back to our corners and keep doing the same crap we always do when there is a divisive, partisan culture war issue at issue,” said Sen. Josh McLaurin, an Atlanta Democrat. "And in the meantime, kids will die. Kids will commit suicide. Kids will feel they’re not being heard, that their basic existence is being invalidated, erased.”
Republicans denied that they wished anyone harm, saying they had the best interest of children at heart, and wanted people to be able to obtain counseling.
“I look forward to looking people straight in the eye and telling them that I am compassionate to their plea and I understand their passion, but we're doing the right thing by protecting children,” said Sen. Carden Summers, the Cordele Republican who sponsored the bill.
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