What Utah’s Gender-Affirming Care Ban Means for Residents

Utah’s Republican governor on Saturday signed a bill that would ban gender-affirming health care for transgender children.

Gov. Spencer Cox, who had not taken a public position on the transgender care measure, signed it a day after Utah’s Republican-dominated Legislature sent it to his desk.

SB 16—which is effective immediately—prohibits transgender surgery for youth and hormone treatments for minors.

The bill is prospective, so minors who were diagnosed with gender dysphoria before the bill’s effective date will still be able to receive care if they meet a list of requirements.

SB 16 also requires Utah’s Department of Health and Human Services to “conduct a systematic review of the medical evidence regarding hormonal transgender treatments and provide recommendations to the Legislature.”

The bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Michael Kennedy, a family physician, has acknowledged that it is likely to face a legal challenge. “I’m afraid that I’m going to be working on this for the rest of my political life,” he said on the Senate floor before the bill passed.

“While not a perfect bill, we are grateful for Sen. Kennedy’s more nuanced and thoughtful approach to this terribly divisive issue,” Cox said in a statement.

“More and more experts, states and countries around the world are pausing these permanent and life-altering treatments for new patients until more and better research can help determine the long-term consequences.”

He added: “While we understand our words will be of little comfort to those who disagree with us, we sincerely hope that we can treat our transgender families with more love and respect as we work to better understand the science and consequences behind these procedures.”

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The ACLU of Utah has criticized the legislation and had urged Cox to veto the bill.

In a letter to Cox on Friday, the organization said it is “deeply concerned about the damaging and potentially catastrophic effects this law will have on people’s lives and medical care, and the grave violations of people’s constitutional rights it will cause.”

The letter added: “This bill bans access to life-saving medical care. By cutting off medical treatment supported by every major medical association in the United States, the bill compromises the health and well-being of adolescents with gender dysphoria.

“It ties the hands of doctors and parents by restricting access to the only evidence-based treatment available for this serious medical condition and impedes their ability to fulfill their professional obligations.”

Cox’s approval of the bill comes as lawmakers in at least 18 states weigh similar bills targeting health care for young transgender people, The Associated Press reported.

The Department of Justice last year challenged an Alabama law that made it a felony for doctors to treat transgender people under age 19 with puberty-blockers and hormones to help affirm their new gender identity.

That came after the department sent a letter to all 50 of the nation’s state attorneys general, warning that laws and other restrictions blocking transgender youth from receiving gender-affirming care could infringe of federal constitutional protections.

File photo shows a transgender Flag in between two pride flags at Christopher Park on June 26, 2020 in New York City.
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