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House passes bill criminalizing medical treatment of minors experiencing gender dysphoria

The bill was debated for under 20 minutes before Republicans brought a motion to end discussion of the legislation.

Mia Raven displays the transgender flag alongside a group of protestors outside the Alabama Statehouse on Wednesday opposing a bill that would ban puberty blockers from being prescribed to minors. The bill passed the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday afternoon. (Jacob Holmes / APR)

House sponsor Wes Allen, R-Troy, says the bill he has carried for the past three years is about protecting children from irreversible harm. 

Critics say the bill actually prevents life-changing treatment from being provided to a vulnerable population of children.

All that’s left now for the bill to become law is the signature of Gov. Kay Ivey.

Allen said the bill is akin to protecting children from vaping, quoting his Democratic colleague Rep. Barbara Drummond, D-Mobile.

“We do not allow children to vape even with parental permission because, as our colleague Rep. Drummond said at this mic when presenting her bill earlier this quadrennium, ‘children do not have the brains that are developed enough to understand the long term effects of vaping,’” Allen said. “I would agree with that and just as they do not understand the long term effects of vaping, they do not understand the long term effects of these surgeries or medications.”

The bill has had a spirited public hearing with speakers on each side of the issue, but there was less than 20 minutes of discussion on the bill Thursday as Republicans moved to cloture debate immediately after returning from a two-hour recess.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Shay Shelnutt, R-Trussville, creates a Class C felony for the prescription of puberty blockers and hormones to transgender minors punishable by up to 10 years in prison. It also bans genital surgeries on minors. It passed 66-28 mostly along party lines.

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Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, was the only person to speak on the bill before the recess. He picked up a line of questioning he had with Allen during the committee meeting.

“Do you think parents that are seeking treatment for their children are abusing them,” England asked.

Allen chose multiple times not to answer the question directly, instead telling England “we protect kids all the time on this floor.”

England also said the bill would require families and children to testify against doctors providing treatment.

To “help understand” the bill’s motivation, England asked Allen what he thinks about transgender children.

“We want those children to flourish,” Allen said. “We love those children. We want them to get the help they need.”

England retorted that the bill would not even allow the children to get needed mental health counseling, which Allen contested.

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Rep. Neil Rafferty, D-Birmingham, the legislature’s only openly gay lawmaker, lambasted his Republican colleagues after the cloture motion prevailed.

“This is not a partisan issue,” Rafferty said. “This is not Democrat. This is not Republican. This is not liberal, progressive. This is not conservative, fascist. This is an issue that deals with being a human being.”

Rafferty questioned if the supporters of the bill understand what goes into the process.

“You want to think you’re just going to a doc-in-a-box and willy nilly just getting prescribed this stuff because somebody just said ‘hey, this is it,’” Rafferty said. “That’s not how being gay works. That’s not how being transgender works. Trust me, if I didn’t have to be gay, I wouldn’t be. Do you know how much easier my freakin’ life would be? … What’s going to happen is going to happen. Just don’t dare call me a friend after this.”

Drummond also came to the mic to “set the record straight” on her comments about vaping and their application to this legislation.

“I dare you to stand here and to equate this bill with a vape deal, which is protecting the health of our children,” Drummond said.

A bevy of LGBTQ rights organizations criticized the bill following its passage Thursday afternoon.

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“Anti-equality legislators in the state capital have recklessly passed a bill that goes directly against the best advice of the medical community and intrudes on the rights of parents and families to make their own medical decisions,” said Human Rights Campaign Alabama state director Carmarion D. Anderson-Harvey, herself a transgender woman. “In doing so, they will also criminalize critically important care that transgender youth need desperately. SB184 does not fulfill the proposed goal of making our state safer; in fact, it does the exact opposite, aligning Alabama with states like Texas and Florida in attacking transgender kids and worsening their emotional distress …HRC condemns the passage of this bill in the Alabama State Legislature, and demands that Governor Ivey veto this bill the second it arrives at her desk.”

Allen noted on the floor that the only transgender individual to share their experience in public hearings is a woman who formerly identified as a transgender man and now regrets the treatment.

The HRC is joined by the Southern Poverty Law Center and other LGBTQ rights organizations in a statement Thursday announcing a lawsuit to be filed immediately if the bill is signed into law.

“The passage of this bill means that families who love Alabama and call it home will have to move away to ensure their children receive the basic medical care they need,” said Dr. Morissa Ladinsky, associate professor of pediatrics at UAB Pediatrics Division of Academic General Pediatrics. “The parents demonized by SB184 are kind, loving, and supportive. They come from every corner of Alabama. This bill puts doctors like me in the untenable position of choosing between ignoring the medical needs of our patients or risking being sent to prison.”

“This is a blatantly unconstitutional bill that will cause enormous stress and harm to Alabama families and cost Alabama taxpayers millions of dollars to defend,” said National Center for Lesbian Rights senior staff attorney Asaf Orr. “A federal court immediately stopped enforcement of a similar law in Arkansas last year, and we expect the same result here.”

Jacob Holmes is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can reach him at [email protected]

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