South Dakota lawmakers pass bill blocking transgender minors from receiving surgery

The bill's sponsor called reassignment surgery a "crime against humanity."

The South Dakota House of Representatives passed HB 1057 last week, a bill that would make it illegal for medical professionals to perform gender reassignment procedures on a minor -- or to administer hormones and puberty blockers to patients under 16.

A Republican-controlled House voted 46-23 in favor of the legislation, bringing the state one step closer to being the first in the country to pass such restrictions.

The bill, known as the Vulnerable Child Protection Act, will make procedures for transgender minors a Class-1 misdemeanor, and if signed by law, could send doctors who go against the policy to jail and/or fine them up to $2,000.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Fred Deutsch, R-S.D., said he was "moved" to introduce the legislation after finding "stories of pain and suffering of young people on the internet."

"The folks on the other side of the argument talk about puberty blockers being a pause button. And I’m saying -- you know what -- a better pause button is just don’t give them the drugs or surgeries," Deutsch said during an interview with the Family Research Council, a conservative group that lobbies for political and cultural issues.

Later in the interview, Deutsch said transgender medical procedures are a "crime against humanity," comparing them to experiments performed during the Holocaust.

"I’m the son of a Holocaust survivor," he said. "I’ve had family killed in Auschwitz, and I’ve seen the pictures of the bizarre medical experiments. I don’t want that to happen to our kids. And that’s what’s going on right now."

He walked back the comments later, saying he regretted making the comparison, according to an article from The Washington Post.

State Rep. Jamie Smith, also the minority leader, said Deutsch’s comment was "disgusting." He said the new bill would compromise the relationship and trust between doctors and patients.

"I trust the doctors here in my state," he said. "They don’t want us telling them how to do their jobs. That is the doctor’s and the parent's decision of how to best treat each child on an individual basis."

South Dakota Senate Minority Leader Troy Heinert echoed Smith's remarks, saying "this bill puts us right in the middle between a family and their doctor."

The legislation still allows doctors to perform surgery on infants who are born intersex -- a term for individuals with variations in sex characteristics that do not fit typical definitions for male and female.

Gillian Branstetter, an official for the National Women’s Law Center, expressed her opposition to the subsection on Twitter.

"It is heinous that #HB1057 is solely crafted to prevent fictional nonconsensual surgeries on young trans children while exempting actual, quite real nonconsensual surgeries on young intersex children," she tweeted.

Other advocacy groups have also spoken against the bill. Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, asked the state Senate to vote against the "harmful" legislation.

"If H.B. 1057 were to become law, it would send a strong message to trans youth that they are less than their peers and that lawmakers in the Capitol know better than doctors, parents and trans youth," David said in a statement.

The American Civil Liberties Union's South Dakota office called the bill "unconstitutional," vowing to bring it to court if it becomes law.

"By blocking medical care supported by every major medical association, this legislation represents a callous disregard for the health and wellness of South Dakota’s transgender youth, some of the most vulnerable people in our state," said Heather Smith, the executive director of the ACLU office.

Smith said he hopes the bill dies before going to court, citing South Dakota’s "limited budget" as one of his concerns.

"I hate being the testing ground for some of this conservative law being passed here in the state of South Dakota, to then have to go to court," he said.

This is not Deutsch's first time sponsoring a bill targeting the state’s transgender population. In 2016, he proposed a bill that would have restricted transgender students’ access in public bathrooms.

Dennis Daugaard, the state's former Republican governor, ended up vetoing the bill after it made it through the Republican-controlled legislature.

Heinert said he plans to speak against the bill if it makes it to the Senate floor. Its first stop is the South Dakota Senate's Heath and Human Services committee.

"I'm ashamed," he said. "This is not who we are. This is not who a majority of Dakotans are. We try to be respectful of people’s rights, and we often pride ourselves that we are about small government."

He added, "This is completely the opposite."

ABC News' Karma Allen contributed to this report.

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