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Bans on medical care for trans youth are moving quickly through state legislatures

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Bills to ban gender-affirming medical care for transgender youth are quickly moving through state legislatures. Already this year, five such bans have been signed into law. They prohibit treatments such as puberty blockers or cross-sex hormones, care that dozens of major U.S. medical groups have endorsed as time tested and medically necessary. NPR's Melissa Block has been tracking these bills. Hi, Melissa.

MELISSA BLOCK, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.

SHAPIRO: We spoke with you on the program two weeks ago, and since then, two more Republican governors have signed bans on gender-affirming care for minors. Bring us up to speed.

BLOCK: Yeah, those two governors, Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves and Bill Lee in Tennessee. These medical care bans are coming from red states; so along with those two, also Arkansas, Alabama, Utah and South Dakota, as well as Florida. There are also some restrictions in Arizona.

SHAPIRO: And apart from those states, how many others are considering similar bans?

BLOCK: Yeah, it's really a moving target. LGBTQ advocates say they are tracking more than 100 medical care bills in about 30 states. And these bills are moving really quickly. Let's focus for a second on Kentucky. A gender-affirming care ban there was fast-tracked out of committee late last week, sent out onto the House floor for a vote. And I want to take a few minutes to give you a flavor of the debate there because it's an example of what's playing out around the country. First, here's the bill co-sponsor, Republican Nancy Tate.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NANCY TATE: Mr. Speaker, I urge this honorable body to support House Bill 470 to protect our most vulnerable - our children - from this process that is unproven and dangerous.

BLOCK: And supporters of the bill claim that gender-affirming care causes irreparable harm. In the end, there were just two Republicans speaking in support of the bill; more than a dozen Democratic legislators speaking in opposition. And let's listen to some of them. First, here's Representative Josie Raymond, who said the bill tramples on the rights of doctors and parents.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOSIE RAYMOND: It says, we know better than someone who is told by their child, when that child is 3 and 4 and 5 and 6 and 7 and 8 and 9 and 10, that that child feels different. And when that child at 11 is suicidal because they can't live the way that feels right for them, don't worry, Republican legislators in Kentucky know better.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PAMELA STEVENSON: I was born at night, but not last night.

BLOCK: And this is Democrat Pamela Stevenson.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

STEVENSON: As I recall, a couple of months ago, you were saying the government can't tell me to wear a cloth mask to prevent a global pandemic. And now you're saying the government can tell a mother and the father what to do with their kid and they don't have any right to opt out. Stop it.

BLOCK: And one last voice - this is Democrat Daniel Grossberg.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DANIEL GROSSBERG: To those young people who are struggling today, I am sorry. There are those of us here today who are fighting for you, but we will not win. But I need you to know that we see you. We hear you. And we love you. And we know that you are perfect just the way you are.

SHAPIRO: Wow. Well, we heard him say that we will not win. How did the Kentucky House vote?

BLOCK: Well, the ban passed overwhelmingly, 75-22. So now it heads to the state Senate, which is also overwhelmingly Republican. The governor of Kentucky, Andy Beshear, is a Democrat. He has said, I can't support anything that would cost the life of one of our Kentucky teens. If he does veto, though, the legislature has plenty of votes to override that.

SHAPIRO: We've been talking about bans on medical care for transgender youth, and other states have proposals that would go even farther. Tell us about those.

BLOCK: Yeah, a number of states would ban gender-affirming care up to age 21 or 25, and other states would restrict care across the board for all ages. So Oklahoma, for example, has a bill that would effectively ban care for trans people of any age. It would prohibit any facility that gets any public funds from offering care to minors or adults, and it would bar insurance companies from covering that care. So this wave of legislation, Ari, that ostensibly started with the goal of protecting children has now grown much broader and much more far-reaching.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Melissa Block, thank you.

BLOCK: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: March 6, 2023 at 11:00 PM CST
A previous headline and web introduction incorrectly said this story is about courts and bills to ban gender-affirming care for trans youth. It's about state legislatures and those bills.
As special correspondent and guest host of NPR's news programs, Melissa Block brings her signature combination of warmth and incisive reporting. Her work over the decades has earned her journalism's highest honors, and has made her one of NPR's most familiar and beloved voices.