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California to become refuge for transgender youth seeking gender-affirming health care

The Hill 8/31/2022 Brooke Migdon
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Story at a glance

  • California lawmakers on Wednesday passed legislation to shield transgender youth and their families from legal action taken by other states if they travel to California to receive gender-affirming health care.
  • The measure, introduced by California Sen. Scott Wiener (D), would prohibit state health care providers, insurance companies or contractors from releasing information related to a transgender minor or their parents in response to a “criminal or civil action” based on the laws of another state.
  • The legislation now heads to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s (D) desk for final approval.

A California bill that would make the state a safe haven for transgender children and their families is on its way to the governor’s desk after receiving final approval from the legislature Wednesday afternoon.

The measure, introduced in May by California Sen. Scott Wiener (D), would shield transgender minors that have traveled to California to receive gender-affirming health care, as well as their families, from legal actions taken by other states where treatments including puberty blockers and hormones are illegal or heavily restricted.

In February, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) ordered state agencies to open child welfare investigations into the parents of transgender children that had received gender-affirming medical care, responding to a non-legally binding opinion issued by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) that claimed some forms of gender-affirming health care amount to “child abuse” under state law.

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Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (R) in April signed into law a measure making it a felony – punishable by up to a decade in prison – for doctors and others to provide gender-affirming medical care to transgender youth under 19, writing in a signing statement that children need to be protected from “these radical, life-altering drugs and surgeries when they are at such a vulnerable stage in life.”

In March, Arizona also enacted a measure to ban gender-affirming care for transgender youth, but limited its scope to gender-affirming surgeries, which are not recommended for minors.

Other states including Idaho this year introduced – but failed to pass – legislation that would have made it a felony to provide gender-affirming health care to a minor or to leave the state for the purposes of obtaining gender-affirming care.

Major medical organizations including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychological Association and the American Medical Association have said gender-affirming health care for both transgender minors and adults is safe, medically necessary and often life-saving.

Under Wiener’s legislation, California health care providers, insurance companies and contractors will be prohibited from releasing information related to an individual or entity that provides gender-affirming medical care to a minor in response to a “criminal or civil action” based on the laws of another state.

“California must stand with LGBTQ kids and their families, especially when they’re under attack across the country,” Wiener said earlier this month in a statement. “Parents should never be separated from their kids or criminalized for simply allowing them to be who they are. We need to hold firm in our support for the LGBTQ community and stand with LGBTQ youth.”

The measure, which is co-sponsored by the nonprofit groups Equality California and Planned Parenthood and Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis (D), now heads to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s (D) desk for final approval.

If enacted, the legislation would limit the ability of state law enforcement to make an arrest or participate in the extradition of a parent that has traveled to California with their minor child to receive gender-affirming health care from a state where it is illegal.

“An out-of-state arrest warrant for an individual based on violating another state’s law against providing, receiving, or allowing their child to receive gender-affirming health care or gender-affirming mental health care is the lowest law enforcement priority,” the bill reads.

State law enforcement will also be prohibited from enforcing orders from other states that authorize a child to be removed from their parent or guardian because they were permitted to receive gender-affirming health care in California.

At least 16 other states have committed to introducing similar legislation.

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R) last month enacted a law that protects access to gender-affirming health care under the state constitution and prevents state agencies from complying with extradition requests from other states pursuing criminal charges against individuals who received, assisted with or performed medical care that is legal in Massachusetts.

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