Wisconsin Senate gives final approval to bill banning gender-affirming care for minors

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Posted at 3:41 PM, Oct 19, 2023

MADISON (AP) — Gender-affirming surgery and other care for minors would be banned in Wisconsin under a Republican-sponsored bill that won final approval in the GOP-controlled Legislature on Tuesday.

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers has vowed to veto the measure that drew dozens of people in opposition to a hearing at the Capitol earlier this month. The Assembly passed the rapidly moving bill last week and the Senate passed it Tuesday.

Democrats were united against it in both the Assembly and Senate, but didn't have the votes to stop it.

The bill would ban gender-affirming surgeries, which are rare, as well as all forms of gender-affirming care for minors in Wisconsin, including puberty blockers and hormone treatment using estrogen and testosterone.

“This bill is nothing short of cruel," Democratic Sen. Mark Spreitzer said during debate. He questioned why the Senate was taking it up given Evers' vow to veto it. “Stop hurting LGBTQ kids.”

Democrats and other bill opponents, including those representing the LGBTQ+ community, argue that introducing the ban adds to mental health challenges that transgender and nonbinary youth already face.

“We’re talking about kids,” Spreitzer said before debate. “Kids are just trying to live their lives, do well in school — and yes, receive the medical care they need.”

Republican supporters have suggested that the opinions of medical experts will change on the importance of gender-affirming care, though it has been available in the United States for more than a decade and is endorsed by major medical associations.

“Protecting children from invasive and irreversible medical interventions is the right thing to do from a scientific and ethical standpoint,” the bill's lead Republican sponsor, Sen. Duey Stroebel, said during debate.

Republican lawmakers across the country want to limit the rights of transgender youths, sparking fierce pushback from the transgender community and triggering discrimination lawsuits along the way.

At least 22 states have enacted laws restricting or banning gender-affirming medical care for transgender minors, and most of those states face lawsuits. Gender-affirming surgery for minors is rare, with fewer than 3,700 performed in the U.S. on patients ages 12 to 18 from 2016 through 2019, according to a study published in August.

The Wisconsin bill is one of several in the state targeting transgender people that Evers has vowed to veto. Republicans don't have enough votes to override the vetoes.

The Wisconsin Assembly last week also passed three bills limiting transgender youth participation on sports teams. The Senate has yet to schedule those for final votes.

Nearly two dozen states have passed legislation limiting athletes to playing on teams that match the gender they were assigned at birth.

In Wisconsin, only the Wisconsin Catholic Conference and the conservative group Wisconsin Family Action have registered in support of the bill banning gender-affirming surgeries. More than two dozen groups have registered against it, including Children's Hospital of Wisconsin and other healthcare providers, the Medical College of Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Council of Churches and the Wisconsin School Social Workers Association.