Alabama Senate passes bill to ban prescribing of puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones for kids

Unsplash/Mercedes Mehling

In a near-unanimous vote, the Alabama Senate passed a ban on medicalized gender-transitioning of minors, outlawing the prescribing of puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones, and performing genital mutilation and double mastectomies on youth younger than 19. 

The bill, called the “Vulnerable Child Compassion and Protection Act,” is sponsored by Republican state Sen. Shay Shelnutt, R-Trussville, and will soon head to the state House, which has already passed a companion bill. The final Senate vote was 23-4, according to multiple reports.

The passage comes after the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the southern state’s efforts last year.  

Both versions of the bill make it a felony to use experimental drugs on youth younger than 19. Those who violate the law could face $15,000 in fines and 10 years in prison. The bill also requires school staff in Alabama to disclose to parents that their children’s mental perception of their bodies — which is often referred to “gender identity” — is inconsistent with their biological sex.

"Children aren’t mature enough to make these decisions on surgeries and drugs. The whole point is to protect kids,” said Shelnutt in an interview with The Associated Press

In response to Democratic lawmakers and other opponents in the state who say that the legislation infringes on the rights of families to make medical care decisions, Shelnutt noted that state law does not allow minors to smoke or drink alcohol.

Alabama is among a handful of states presently considering such laws that assert that youth who identify as the opposite sex or suffer from gender dysphoria must wait until they are adults before undergoing any hormonal or surgical intervention gender-transition.

The Alabama vote comes on the heels of a testy exchange in the U.S. Senate last week where Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., questioned Dr. Rachel Levine, the Biden administration’s nominee to serve as Assistant Health and Human Services Secretary, a trans-identifying man who believes he is a woman.

“Dr. Levine, you have supported both allowing minors to be given hormone blockers to prevent them from going through puberty, as well as surgical destruction of a minor’s genitalia,” Paul said during the hearing, highlighting their irreversible effects. Paul subsequently asked Levine: “Do you believe that minors are capable of making such a life-changing decision as changing one’s sex?”

The nominee refused to answer, replying that the field of transgender medicine is “very complex and nuanced field with robust research and standards of care that have been developed” and that he would speak with Paul in his office about the particulars.

Paul pressed Levine by asking: “Do you support the government intervening to override the parents’ consent to give a child puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones, and/or amputation surgery of breasts and genitalia?”

Levine didn't provide an answer to that question and instead repeated an earlier response to a separate question. This led the Kentucky senator to ask that it be noted in the record that Levine refused to answer the question. 

In 2017, Levine, who is the secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Health, spoke at a conference at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster in support of chemical puberty suppression for youth who identify as the opposite sex to prevent them from going through the “wrong” puberty.

The increased pushback against the medicalization of gender in minors comes after a ruling late last year in a judicial review against the Tavistock gender clinic in London, England.

In the case brought by Keira Bell, a 23-year-old detransitioned woman — who identified as transgender during her teen years and underwent a medicalized gender-transition at the facility — the high court ruled that children younger than 16 were not capable of giving informed consent to experimental drugs like puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones. 

Last month, in the academic journal PLOS ONE, a study was published that followed a cohort of 44 gender dysphoric children ages 12 to 15, who, like Bell, took puberty blockers at the Tavistock clinic. The research found that when the children completed chemical puberty blockade at age 16, their bone growth was reduced in both strength and height. Of the 44 youth in the cohort, 43 went on to take cross-sex hormones.

Last year, the legislative effort to ban medicalized gender-transitioning of minors in the Yellowhammer state followed an unsuccessful attempt to forbid such practices in South Dakota. The South Dakota House overwhelmingly passed a bill, but it was subsequently voted down in a Senate committee due to pressure from the Chamber of Commerce and transgender activists. 

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