(CN) — The Republican-controlled Mississippi Senate passed a bill Tuesday that would prevent access to gender-affirming hormone therapy or surgery for anyone under the age of 18.
Known as the Regulate Experimental Adolescent Procedures, or REAP, Act, the bill prohibits physicians in the state from providing “gender transition procedures” and prescribing puberty-blocking medications or hormones to minors to treat gender dysphoria.
The bill passed the state House of Representatives on Jan. 19 and was adopted by the Senate Tuesday without the support of any Democrats. Democratic state Senator David Jordan, who turns 90 years old in April, suggested it was unnecessary because of the biblical definition of gender as either male or female.
Few Democrats spoke against the bill, although state Senator Derrick T. Simmons expressed concern about its lack of language specifically omitting the prescription of related medications or procedures for other reasons, such as to prevent early onset of menstruation or to correct hormonal imbalances in underage patients.
Democratic Senator Hob Bryan suggested clarifying the pronouns in the bill, but Republican Senator Joey Fillingane, the bill’s sponsor, said he would not entertain any amendments, adding he was aware the issue is politically polarizing.
“There are a lot of people, a lot of groups that would love to see this bill amended in any way so they can get it to a conference, attempt to change it significantly, to gut it and to kill it ultimately,” Fillingane said.
Fillingane said HIPAA privacy laws prevented him from compiling data about the scope of the issue statewide, but that he had heard anecdotal evidence from plastic surgeons who had “on occasion” performed gender-affirming procedures on people younger than 18, although he admitted “it’s not typical at all.”
In response to concerns the bill would also prevent those with gender dysphoria from seeking mental health treatment, Fillingane said data suggests “82% of transgendered individuals have considered killing themselves and 42% have attempted suicide.” He did not provide a source.
“I would not bring a bill before you if I in any way felt like mental health would be affected in a negative way,” he said. “We encourage people to seek out help … we love people, we don’t hate people.”
Fillingane also acknowledged the state’s own medical association has declined to take a position on the bill and suggested the language of the bill was modeled on similar rules passed by the Florida Board of Medicine late last year.
“If you're wanting to follow the science, at best the science is contested and unclear as to whether this is in fact something that helps children,” he said of gender surgery and therapy.
Democratic Senator Rod Hickman pushed back, calling the REAP Act “a clearly anti-trans bill.”
“The rate of suicide is elevated for individuals who are trans not because they have gone through surgeries and medical procedures, but because they live in a society that has continually rejected them and because we have bodies of individuals like this one who will pass legislation that is not necessary and further the narrative these individuals are not human beings deserving of the same rights we all have,” he said.
Hickman agreed children under 18 shouldn’t have gender-changing surgeries but offered an amendment to clarify mental health counseling would remain available and health professionals wouldn't be liable for prescribing hormones for other treatments, but the amendment was defeated.
“We need to make it clear we can provide the necessary mental health treatment individuals need when living a trans life,” he said.
Stacie and Lee Pace, who own and operate a clinic specializing in gender dysphoria in Hattiesburg, said by email Tuesday afternoon they were “overwhelmed” by the news and weary to speak after being constantly harassed by opponents of transgender care.
“We are exhausted, simply exhausted, by the amount of ignorant pseudoscience that has been used to push this bill and others like it into existence,” Stacie Pace wrote. “The science and data are clear, and there are ample robust guidelines in place for health care providers to follow in the care of transgender people of all ages. What is also clear is that anti-trans sentiment is being given as much consideration as actual scientific research."
She added, "We will of course abide by the law as it stands in Mississippi and cease to provide any services to those under the age of 18. For those who have passed this law, we truly hope that they do not understand what they have done. Because to understand the implications of this bill’s passage is to be complicit in the increased suicidality and discrimination of this vulnerable population. Our hearts are heavy with the burden of knowing what this can lead to.”
Fillingame name-dropped the clinic during the debate, saying “we have a very different world view” and “they do things that are not natural.”
The bill will advance to Republican Governor Tate Reeves, who indicated today he will sign it into law.
"Sterilizing and castrating children in the name of new gender ideology is wrong," Tate tweeted. "That plain truth is somehow controversial in today’s world. I called for us to stop these sick experimental treatments and I look forward to getting the bill."
Separately, the Atlanta-based 11th Circuit is currently considering arguments against a similar bill passed in Alabama last year. In that case, medical organizations including the American Academy of Pediatrics, World Professional Association for Transgender Health and Endocrine Society have filed briefs arguing in support of gender-affirming care for underage patients, citing a growing body of medical evidence.Follow @gabetynes
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