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Georgia’s governor signs ban on certain gender-affirming care for minors

Christine Cox, center, a parent of a transgender teenager, becomes emotional March 21, 2023, after speaking to Georgia state Sen. Carden Summers, a Cordele Republican, back left, outside the Senate at the Capitol in Atlanta. (Arvin Temkar/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution via ZUMA Press Wire and CNN)

(CNN) — Georgia’s Republican Gov. Brian Kemp signed a bill Thursday to ban certain gender-affirming care for minors, joining a growing number of GOP-led states looking to restrict the treatments across the country.

Senate Bill 140 will bar licensed medical professionals in Georgia from providing patients under the age of 18 with hormone therapy or surgery related to gender transition. Violations of the legislation could lead to the revocation of a health practitioner’s license.

Kemp announced the signing in a tweet, saying that the law would “ensure we protect the health and wellbeing of Georgia’s children.”

“As Georgians, parents, and elected leaders, it is our highest responsibility to safeguard the bright, promising futures of our kids – and SB 140 takes an important step in fulfilling that mission,” he said.

LGBTQ advocates, however, have expressed concern over restricting access to such treatment, which is medically necessary, evidence-based care that uses a multidisciplinary approach to help a person from their assigned gender — the one the person was designated at birth — to their affirmed gender, the gender by which one wants to be known.

“SB 140 will outlaw the care necessary to save children’s lives,” Rep. Nikema Williams, who chairs the Democratic Party of Georgia, said in a statement after the signing. “It is not only cruel, but it flies in the face of medical science, standards of patient care, and the lived experiences of those whom it impacts.”

Democratic state Sen. Josh McLaurin shared similar concerns about the bill’s consequences for Georgia’s youth, after it passed in Georgia’s Senate Tuesday with a 31-21 vote.

“Kids will commit suicide. Kids will feel like they’re not being heard, that their basic existence is being invalidated and erased,” McLaurin said.

The Trevor Project, a suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ youth, noted in a 2022 report that 55% of transgender and nonbinary youth in Georgia “seriously considered suicide in the past year” and 16% attempted suicide in the same timeframe.

While the bill grants exemptions to the law “for individuals born with a medically verifiable disorder of sex development” and other medical conditions, it does not count gender dysphoria — a psychological distress that may result when a person’s gender identity and sex assigned at birth do not align, according to the American Psychiatric Association — among them.

Minors who started hormone replacement therapy before July 1, 2023, will be allowed to continue the treatment under the new legislation.

Cory Isaacson, a legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia, warned ahead of the signing that the legal organization would sue the state over the law, claiming that Georgia’s politicians are “interfering with the rights of Georgia parents to get life-saving medical treatment for their children and preventing physicians from properly caring for their patients.”

“The ACLU of Georgia and our partners will now consider all available legal options in order to protect the rights of parents, young people, and medical providers in our state,” she said

Major medical associations agree that gender-affirming care is clinically appropriate for children and adults with gender dysphoria.

Though the care is highly individualized, some children may decide to use reversible puberty suppression therapy. This part of the process may also include hormone therapy that can lead to gender-affirming physical change. Surgical interventions, however, are not typically done on children and many health care providers do not offer them to minors.

The Georgia bill does not explicitly prohibit puberty blockers, breaking with similar bans across the country. Instead, the bill takes aim at hormone therapy that comes with more permanent effects than puberty blockers, according to The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, which notes the treatment is shown to help transgender people with depression and boost self-esteem.

Georgia’s legislation is similar in its goal to dozens of bills seeking to restrict access to gender-affirming care across the country, according to data compiled by the American Civil Liberties Union and shared with CNN.

Some GOP-led states have already made restrictions on transgender youth’s access to health care in their states. On Wednesday, Iowa enacted its own ban on all forms of gender affirming care for minors, joining TennesseeMississippiUtah and South Dakota, which passed their own bans earlier this year. Alabama, Arizona and Arkansas also enacted bans on gender-affirming care in recent years, though the laws in Alabama and Arkansas have been temporarily blocked by federal courts.

Other potential bans are waiting in the wings, with Missouri’s Republican attorney general Monday announcing he would seek to implement an emergency regulation restricting gender-affirming care. Kentucky’s Republican-led legislature passed its own ban earlier this month while boasting a majority that could overturn the likely veto of its Democratic governor. That bill would also allow educators to refuse to refer to transgender students by their preferred pronouns and would not allow schools to discuss sexual orientation or gender identity with students of any age.