Idaho’s state House of Representatives has approved the most far-reaching bill yet to criminalize medical treatments for transgender youth, a measure that threatens anyone who facilitates that treatment — or even helps a minor travel to another state to receive gender-affirming care — to be sentenced to life in prison.
The measure, approved Tuesday on a mostly party-line vote, adds medical care for transgender youth to a section of Idaho law already on the books that bans female genital mutilation.
It adds language making it a felony either to perform gender-affirming surgery on transgender youth or to provide medication meant to block or delay the onset of puberty.
The existing law already makes a felony of anyone who takes a child from Idaho to another state for the purpose of female genital mutilation; the new language would add transporting someone across state lines for gender-affirming medical care to the felony list.
Similarly, the new language would make either providing gender-affirming medical care or transporting a child to another state to receive that care a felony punishable by up to life in prison.
“This bill is about protecting children, which is a legitimate state interest. We do that all of the time,” the bill’s lead sponsor, state Rep. Bruce Skaug (R), said on the House floor. “We need to stop sterilizing and mutilating children under the age of 18. This bill is not about the adults or adult trans community at all. It is about children.”
Skaug compared transgender medical treatment to allowing children to get tattoos or drink alcohol.
But transgender rights advocates point to specific provisions that include medicine meant to block or delay puberty as evidence that the bill goes far beyond a ban on surgery. Trans children are at far higher risk of suicide and suicidal ideation than cisgender children — a risk that can be significantly lowered with gender-affirming health care, according to a recent study.
Groups like the American Psychiatric Association, the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics have opposed less far-reaching measures that have been introduced in other states in recent months.
“These bills do nothing to invest and protect Idaho youth and families, and Idahoans deserve better,” said Chase Strangio, the deputy director for transgender justice at the American Civil Liberties Union. “Criminalizing health care for transgender adolescents is counter to science, medicine and ethics and we stand ready to fight any attack on transgender youth and their families.”
One Republican, state Rep. Fred Wood (R) — the only physician serving in the state House — voted with Democrats against the bill.
The bill moves to the state Senate, where Republicans also hold an overwhelming majority. But Idaho’s state Senate, considered the more centrist of the two legislative bodies, has often clashed with the House in recent years, making its passage far from certain.
The state Senate has passed a bill to end this year’s session on Friday, March 25.
Idaho’s bill is one of dozens of measures related to transgender youth that have been introduced in Republican-led legislatures across the country this year, and 25 that target medical treatment for transgender people specifically. Legislators in Tennessee, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Alabama, Arizona, Kansas, Iowa, Wisconsin, Kentucky and New Hampshire are all considering multiple bills related to transgender medical care.
It is not certain that those measures will stand up to scrutiny. Strangio, of the ACLU, pointed to an Arkansas law that was blocked by a judge earlier this year. A Texas judge last week put on hold a state agency’s move to investigate the mother of a transgender girl under orders from Gov. Greg Abbott (R).