Transgender surgery for minors is now prohibited in Utah and the prescription of transgender medicine for minors has temporarily been placed on hold under new legislation signed into law by Gov. Spencer Cox.
Under the measure, referred to as Senate Bill 16, doctors in Utah cannot perform surgeries that remove male reproductive organs on boys or female reproductive organs on girls unless the patients are at least 18 years old. They cannot perform surgery to change those organs to make them resemble the organs of the opposite sex. The legislation also prohibits other surgeries, such as the removal of the breasts on girls or chest surgery on boys to make them resemble girls. Facial surgery that is intended to make one’s face appear more similar to the opposite sex will also be prohibited for minors.
The legislation puts a temporary halt on prescribing gender transition drugs to minors, but the moratorium does not outright ban them for good. Instead, it directs the state Department of Health and Human Services to conduct a review of these medicines and provide recommendations to the Legislature. At that point, lawmakers will decide whether they want to make the prohibition permanent or lift it. These drugs include puberty blockers as well as estrogen used to feminize a boy or testosterone used to masculinize a girl.
The bill includes exemptions for individuals who are born intersex, such as those whose sex is ambiguous at birth or those born with both male and female body parts. It also includes an exception for surgery or drugs when they are medically necessary and are not done as an attempt to change the child’s gender.
In a statement after signing the bill, Cox said the legislation was a “nuanced and thoughtful approach to this terribly divisive issue” and any bill “that impacts our most vulnerable youth requires careful consideration and deliberation.”
“We will continue to push the Legislature for additional resources to organizations that work to help this important Utah community,” Cox continued. “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.”
State Rep. Katy Hall, who sponsored the bill in the House, told CNA that the final bill was the result of several months of conversations with stakeholders on how to best protect the health of children. Sen. Michael Kennedy, who sponsored the bill in the Senate, could not be reached for comment.
“I am thankful to Sen. Kennedy and many other colleagues in the Utah House of Representatives who stood with me to push back on a radical agenda to perform novel and irreversible transgender surgeries on minors,” Hall said. “We can’t allow social policy to outpace science, especially when the scientific evidence is still emerging and lacking in consensus. I hope we can continue working together to provide our struggling children with the kindness, love, and care they need to grow and thrive.”
Jay Richards, who serves as the director of the DeVos Center for Life, Religion, and Family at The Heritage Foundation, told CNA that the legislation provides “some protection against these ghoulish practices,” but he felt that the bill could have been better.
“Utah is to be commended for putting the focus where it should be: on the evidence,” Richards said. “The bill is unduly modest, however. After all, there are already good systematic reviews. We know there’s no reliable evidence for the benefits of these treatments, let alone that the long-term benefits outweigh the harms. Therefore, if the Utah health board is honest with the evidence, the state Legislature will have to follow up with a prohibition on these procedures for minors.”
The legislation passed the Senate 21-7 and the House 58-14. Both chambers have a strong Republican majority and the bill was passed nearly along party lines, with Republicans supporting it and Democrats opposing it.
Four states restricted transgender health care for minors last year, but judges in two of the states — Alabama and Arkansas — blocked those bills from going into effect. Nearly a dozen other states are considering similar legislation this year. Most states do not have any similar restrictions on the books.