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South Dakota Kills Bill to Criminalize Gender-Affirming Care

South Dakota protesters
Greg Latza/ACLU

A Senate committee Monday quashed a bill that would have made it a crime for doctors to provide such care to minors.

South Dakota lawmakers have killed a bill that would have made it a crime for doctors to provide gender-transition treatment to people under 18.

The state's House of Representatives approved the legislation, House Bill 1057, January 29, but a Senate committee Monday rejected it by a vote of 5-2, meaning it won't get further consideration this session, the Sioux Falls Argus Leader reports.

It would have criminalized not only gender-affirmation surgeries -- which are not usually performed on minors anyway, in line with accepted medical protocols -- but also hormone treatment and puberty blockers. Doctors could have received up to a year in prison and a fine of $2,000.

Sen. Wayne Steinhauer, a Republican, led the effort to reject the bill. He said decisions about such treatment should be made by families. "I believe the building block of society is the family," he said.

Republican Rep. Fred Deutsch, the legislation's chief sponsor, had asked the committee to amend the bill so that parents who believed their child was harmed by the treatment could sue. A Republican member of the Senate committee, Lance Russell, said this was a reason to support the bill, as it would empower families. But in the end, this argument did not win the committee over.

About 20 people protested against the bill prior to the committee hearing, and during the hearing, several witnesses, including doctors, testified both for and against it. Businesses and organizations provided testimony as well.

The American Civil Liberties Union's South Dakota affiliate praised the committee's action. "Though supporters claimed House Bill 1057 was aimed at protecting vulnerable youth, it was clearly fueled by a fear and misunderstanding of transgender South Dakotans," said Libby Skarin, policy director for the ACLU of South Dakota, in a press release. "It's time we stop these attacks and the very real harm they cause to transgender youth across our state. Let this be a signal to the South Dakota legislature that discrimination against a marginalized group is a distraction from the needs of the state and hurts us all."

A similar bill has been introduced in Florida but is not scheduled for action, so it may be dead. Another bill like this has been introduced in Kentucky. Bills have also been introduced in South Carolina and Missouri to ban transition-related care for minors, but they wouldn't impose criminal penalties on doctors. A Georgia lawmaker said last fall that she is preparing a bill to prohibit such care for young people, but it hasn't been introduced yet. A Texas legislator is planning to introduce a bill to this effect as well.

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