WV Senate joins GOP effort to limit trans youth health care

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 passing a bill that would ban certain treatments and therapies while approving a major amendment to add exemptions for mentally health.

The Senate version of the bill, which passed 30-2 on Friday, was notable for adding benefits for some transgender youth to continue receiving medical interventions, including hormone therapy, when they are deemed at risk of self-harm or suicide.

The bill faces stiff opposition in the state’s House of Delegates, which will take up the amended Senate version. The GOP-dominated House last month passed a proposal including a ban on puberty-blocking drugs and hormone therapy, with no mental health exemptions.

Republican Gov. Jim Justice has not taken a public position on the measure.

Lawmakers in West Virginia and other states are moving forward ban on transgender health care for youth and young adults often characterizes gender confirmation treatments as medically unproven, potentially dangerous in the long term and a symptom of “woke” culture.

The West Virginia Senate bill passed Friday would ban those under 18 from becoming prescribed hormone therapy and fully reversible medication suspend the physical changes of puberty, buying 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 called for mental health support.

Takubo’s approved amendment would give young people access to puberty blockers and hormone therapy if they experience severe gender dysphoria in certain circumstances.

Gender dysphoria is defined by doctors as a serious psychological disorder experienced by those whose gender identity differs from their gender assigned at birth.

The rate of suicidal 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 West Virginia Youth Risk Behavior Survey.

During a speech in the Senate, Takubo referred to 17 peer-reviewed studies that show a significant decrease in the number of suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts among youth with severe gender dysphoria who have access to drug treatment.

He found a supporter in Senate Health and Human Resources Committee Chairman Sen. Mike Maroney, another trained physician, who said lawmakers would set “a dangerous precedent” by disregarding medical research in favor of political gain.

“Who are we, to win an election, to tell people how to practice medicine? To change treatment? It’s unbelievable,” the Republican said, adding that lawmakers would not apply the same standard to medicine for cancer or mental illness.

The legislation also includes a ban on gender reassignment surgery for minors, something doctors stress is not happening in West Virginia.

During Friday’s debate, Republican Sen. Eric Tarr echoed those concerns, saying the medical procedures doctors practice are too extreme and driven by “woke” culture.

“They’re trying to take pronouns out of our textbooks for kids,” Tarr said.

All major medical organizations, including the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Psychiatric Association, support gender-affirming care for youth.

With Takubo’s amendment, a person under 18 would have to be diagnosed with severe gender dysphoria by at least two doctors or mental health providers to access drug treatment. One had to be a mental health provider or adolescent medicine specialist.

The dosage must be the lowest possible necessary to “treat the psychiatric condition and not for the purpose of gender reassignment,” according to the bill.

Providers must be specifically trained to diagnose and treat severe gender dysphoria in youth and must provide written testimony that medical intervention is necessary to prevent or limit self-harm or the possibility of self-harm.

The minor’s parents and guardians must also give written consent to the treatments.

Hormonal therapy could not be given to minors before puberty, something doctors in West Virginia say doesn’t happen anyway.

The House version of the bill passed last month 84-10, with all the ‘no’ votes coming from the body’s shrinking delegation of Democrats. They accused GOP lawmakers of putting children’s lives at risk to score political points with the national conservative movement.

This version provides exemptions for persons born with a “medically verifiable disorder,” including persons with “external biological sex characteristics that are irresolvably ambiguous” and for persons taking treatments for infection, injury, disease, or disorder that is “caused by or aggravated by the performance of gender reassignment procedures.”

People can also access the treatment if they are in “imminent danger to life or impairment of a major bodily function unless surgery is performed.”

Speaking against Takubo’s change Friday, Republican Sen. Mark Maynard said he didn’t see why changes were necessary. He feared additions could leave the state vulnerable to a lawsuit.

“This amendment would destroy the clarity of the bill in its very simple language,” Maynard said. “These barriers are already in this bill when it came to us from the House.”

The vote came a day after throngs of protesters descended on the state capitol, where chants of “trans kids matter” could be heard from the Senate chamber as lawmakers debated bills.

The democratic part. Danielle Walker, the only openly LGBTQ member, led chants of the state’s motto: “Mountaineers are always free.”

“They’re trying to come for trans kids in West Virginia, and they’re going to come for every one of us next,” said Sam Green of Huntington, wearing a transgender pride flag around their shoulders as they addressed the crowd.

Cecelia Moran, an 18-year-old high school student from Marion County, said she feared banning any form of medically documented health care could result in more young people leaving West Virginia, one of only three states that lost population in 2020 U.S. 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,” she 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.

“That’s not what’s hurting our kids,” said Rebecca Moran, a Fairmont city council member. “There are so many other things: homelessness, poverty.”

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