CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) – West Virginia’s Republican supermajority Senate followed a growing national trend of GOP opposition to health care for transgender youth by approving a bill that would ban certain treatments and therapies, while approving a significant change to add exceptions for mental health.
The Senate version of the bill passed by a count of 30-2 on Friday was notable in the addition of allowances for some transgender youth to continue receiving medical interventions, including hormone therapy, when they are considered at risk of harm or suicide.
The bill faces strong opposition in the state House of Delegates, which will take over the Senate’s modified version. The GOP-dominated House last month passed a proposal that includes a ban on puberty-blocking drugs and hormone therapy, with no mental health exemptions.
Republican Gov. Jim Justice has not taken a public stance on the measure.
Lawmakers in West Virginia and other states are moving forward ban transgender health care for youth and young adults often characterizes sex-affirmation treatments as medically unproven, potentially dangerous in the long run it is a symptom of the “wake” culture.
Every major medical organization, including the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Psychiatric Association, supports gender affirming care for youth.
The West Virginia Senate bill passed Friday would ban those under 18 prescribed hormonal therapy and completely reversible medication by suspending the physical changes of puberty, it buys patients and parents time to make future decisions about hormones.
“These kids are struggling, they have incredible difficulties,” said Majority Leader Tom Takubo, a pulmonologist, who urged support for mental health protections.
Takubo’s approved change would allow young people to access puberty blockers and hormone therapy if they are suffering from severe gender dysphoria, under certain circumstances.
Gender dysphoria is defined by medical professionals as a severe psychological distress experienced by those whose gender identity differs from their assigned sex at birth.
The rate of suicide ideation for transgender youth in Virginia is three times higher than the rate for all youth in the state, according to research and data compiled by WVU Medicine physicians using the Behavioral Survey of At-Risk Youth of West Virginia.
During a speech in the Senate, Takubo referenced 17 peer-reviewed studies that show a significant decrease in rates of suicide ideation and suicide attempts among youth with severe gender dysphoria who have access to medical therapy.
He found a supporter in the Senate of the Council of Health and Human Resources of the Senate Senator Mike Maroney, another trained physician, who said that the legislators set “a dangerous precedent” disregarding medical research in favor of political gain.
“Who are we, to win an election, to tell people how to practice medicine? To change the treatments? It’s unbelievable,” said the Republican, adding that lawmakers should not apply the same standard for drugs for the cancer or mental illness.
The legislation also includes a ban on sex-affirmation surgery for minors, something medical professionals emphasize won’t happen in West Virginia.
During Friday’s debate, Republican Senator Eric Tarr echoed those concerns, saying the medical interventions doctors practice are too extreme and driven by “woke” culture.
“They’re trying to get pronouns out of our children’s textbooks,” Tarr said.
With Takubo’s change, a person under 18 would have to be diagnosed with severe gender dysphoria by at least two mental health or medical providers to access medical therapy. One would have to be a mental health provider or a specialist in adolescent medicine.
The dose should be as low as possible needed to “treat the psychiatric condition and not for sex alteration purposes,” according to the bill.
Providers must be specifically trained to diagnose and treat severe gender dysphoria in adolescents and must provide written evidence that medical interventions are necessary to prevent or limit self-harm or the possibility of self-harm.
Parents and guardians of the minor will also be required to give written consent to the treatments.
Hormone therapy could not be provided to minors before the age of puberty, something doctors in West Virginia say would not happen anyway.
The House version of the bill passed last month 84-10, with all the “no” votes coming from the body’s shrinking Democratic delegation. They accused GOP lawmakers of putting children’s lives at risk to score political points with the national conservative movement.
This version provides exceptions for individuals born with a “medically verifiable disorder” including persons with “external biological sex characteristics that are irresolvably ambiguous” and for persons receiving treatment for infection, injury, disease or disorder that has been “caused or aggravated by”. the execution of gender transition procedures”.
People can also access treatment if they are in “imminent danger of death, or deterioration of a major bodily function, unless surgery is performed.”
Speaking against Takubo’s amendment on Friday, Republican Sen. Mark Maynard said he didn’t see why any changes were necessary. He feared the addition could leave the state vulnerable to a lawsuit.
“This amendment will disintegrate the clarity of the bill in its very simple terms,” Maynard said. “These guardrails are already in this bill as it came out of the House.”
The vote came a day after crowds of protesters descended on the state Capitol, where chants of “trans kids matter” could be heard from the Senate chamber as lawmakers debated the bills.
The Democratic Del. Danielle Walker, the only openly LGBTQ member, led chants of the state motto: “Highlanders are still free.”
“They’re trying to come for trans kids in West Virginia, and they’re coming for every one of us next,” said Sam Green of Huntington, who wore a transgender pride flag draped around his shoulders as he addressed the crowd.
Cecelia Moran, an 18-year-old high school student from Marion County, said she fears banning any type of health-proven medical care could lead to more young people leaving West Virginia, one of only three states to lose population in the 2020 US Census.
“I think a lot of young people are already struggling to stay here and feel welcome here and are already planning to get out of state as soon as possible,” he said.
Her mother, Rebecca Moran, said the bill is “just completely unnecessary” and decisions about health care should be made by families and health care providers.
“This is not what harms our children,” said Rebecca Moran, a city councilor in Fairmont. “There are so many other things: homelessness, poverty.”