The full Utah House voted on Thursday to approve a bill that would ban transgender surgeries for Utah children and teens, as well as place an indefinite moratorium on new treatments including puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones for minors.

The House voted 58-14 to pass SB16. It now faces only one more legislative hurdle — a final vote in the Senate to approve changes made by the House — before heading to Gov. Spencer Cox.

“We can’t allow social policy to outpace science,” said the bill’s House sponsor Rep. Katy Hall, R-South Ogden, who is also a practicing nurse. She and the bill’s supporters have argued there’s a lack of research on the long-term impacts of these treatments on children.

“The permanence of the consequences is too great,” she said. “We must ask these questions: Can a child appropriately give informed consent? And do they completely understand the implications of their choice? Will the child be pleased with their choice for the remainder of their life?”

An emotional Hall said she, “as a mother, a grandmother and a nurse,” has a “vested interest, as all of us do, in the health and well-being of Utah’s children.”

“I’ve learned so much during my nursing career to care for all individuals, regardless of what circumstances bring them into my care,” she said. “I can’t help but be saddened sometimes about the choices some of my patients make at a young age that may have contributed to their current health state.”

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Utah Senate approves ban on transgender surgeries, cross-sex hormones for kids
Sue Robbins, a member of Equality Utah’s Transgender Advisory Council, left, listens as a bill regarding a ban on transgender surgeries and to limit puberty blockers is debated at the Capitol on Thursday, Jan. 26, 2022. | Laura Seitz, Deseret News

More specifically, SB16 would outlaw sex characteristic reassignment surgeries for Utahns under the age of 18 and place an indefinite moratorium on hormonal treatments for Utah children and teens not already being treated for gender dysphoria for at least six months.

An earlier version of the bill, which was endorsed by a House committee earlier this week, specified the moratorium would end after four years. However, Hall successfully pushed a change to the bill to strip out the moratorium’s end date.

That House floor alteration left Sue Robbins, a member of Equality Utah’s Transgender Advisory Council, “very upset.”

“It turns the moratorium back to a ban,” she said. “It increases the malpractice possibilities, which is going to back doctors away from giving care, and it also makes the bill come into effect sooner. All three of those make this bill a de facto ban.”

The bill still requires the Department of Health and Human Services to conduct a “systematic review” of medical evidence regarding hormonal transgender treatments and provide recommendations to the Legislature, as well as require a health care provider to meet certain requirements before providing hormonal transgender treatments. It doesn’t require the Utah Legislature to revisit the policy after that systematic review completes.

Hall’s changes to the bill also adds provisions stating a minor could bring a malpractice lawsuit against health care providers if the individual “later disaffirms consent,” up until the minor turns 25 years old.

The bill would take effect upon the governor’s signature.

Cox said last week he doesn’t plan on vetoing the bill, calling it a “very reasonable approach.” Asked whether he still supports the bill given the House’s changes, a spokeswoman for the governor said, “we’re reviewing.”

“We’ll see if there are any changes made, but right now we’re not planning to veto either of them,” Cox told FOX 13 News earlier Thursday morning when asked about both SB16 and a bill the Senate voted approve, HB215, which would implement a $8,000 scholarships to qualifying families for private schools and other private education options and give licensed educators a $6,000 pay raise.

“Well, they’re not perfect, but they don’t let me write the bills,” Cox said when asked if he was comfortable with the bills.

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Surgeries and medications including puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones are among the medical treatments that transgender and nonbinary people sometimes use to transition or alter their sexual characteristics. Some medical professionals, as well as the American Academy of Pediatrics, say the best way to treat children and teens with gender dysphoria is to provide them with medical interventions often referred to as affirming care.

Utah’s GOP-controlled Legislature has rallied behind SB16 to regulate transgender medical care for Utahns under 18, arguing Utah must step in and “protect” children because there is not enough research on the long-term impact of these procedures and medications on children.

On the House floor, Democrats including Rep. Jennifer Dailey-Provost, D-Salt Lake City, fought against the bill, arguing a ban was too harsh of an approach because it would “pull back on all opportunities here in our own state to collect” information on transgender care.

“I don’t want a single child in this state harmed or put in harm’s way in any way, shape or form,” she said. “But I do believe to my very core that by eliminating or limiting in such a draconian way the ability of these kids to get the care — the careful thoughtful care that they need — we are doing more harm than good.”

Rep. Sahara Hayes, D-Millcreek, speaks against SB16 at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Jan. 26, 2022. | Laura Seitz, Deseret News

Rep. Sahara Hayes, D-Millcreek — currently Utah’s only openly gay legislator — also spoke against the bill. Her voice filled with emotion, she said “someone very close to me is trans,” and she described the difficulties of living knowing “you’re never going to have the body you want.”

“It’s (about) living a life that feels like you,” Hayes said. “There is no substitute for that.”

She urged lawmakers to push “pause” and find a better way forward. She argued it’s not “fair to position one group of children above another.”

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Mike Kennedy, R-Alpine, a practicing family physician, has been prioritized by legislative leaders and has quickly made its way through the early days of the Utah Legislature’s 2023 general session. In months leading up to the session that began Jan. 17, Kennedy spent the interim crafting the bill.

On the second day of the session, the bill was heard in an emotional Senate committee hearing filled with personal stories of both the harm and benefits of transgender medical procedures on children and teens. They also heard from medical professionals who argued both for and against the bill.

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Utah House committee strikes down hardline ban against transgender surgeries, puberty blockers for kids — but Senate bill advances

Two days ago, on Tuesday, a House committee held a second hearing, which overflowed with people who rallied earlier that day on the steps of the Utah Capitol in support of Utah’s transgender youth. Several teens who identified as transgender spoke to that committee, urging lawmakers to not restrict their access to treatments that they say saved them from suicide.

“Giving trans people the medical access for what they need can save a life, because I know that it saved mine,” Oliver Day, a 16-year-old transgender male, told the House committee.

“I am not a victim. I am not a passing fad,” said Brie Martin, a 17-year-old who identifies as a transgender woman, told lawmakers. “I deserve a body to feel proud of.”

That House committee struck down a separate bill, HB132, which would have implemented a more hardline ban against both sex reassignment surgeries and medical treatments for transgender minors, but endorsed SB16. A slew of Republicans on that committee favored SB16 as a more balanced and nuanced approach.

However, Utah’s LGBTQ advocacy group Equality Utah continues to oppose SB16. It’s likely the bill will face a legal challenge if signed into law.

Marina Lowe, policy director for Equality Utah, told the Deseret News after Thursday’s vote that Equality Utah was “dismayed, of course,” by the House changes and vote, “that the Utah Legislature saw fit to step in between parents, children and their health care providers.”

The House’s alterations, however, “at least make clear the Legislature’s intent to actually ban care” for Utah’s transgender youth, Lowe said, adding that a “moratorium with no end date is a ban.”

There’s no predicting “who will sue on this,” Lowe said, “but everywhere a medical ban has been passed in the U.S., we have seen litigation follow.”

“The Utah Legislature is well aware of what they’re doing and what the consequences are likely to be.”