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South Dakota advances bill prohibiting doctors from assisting in gender reassignment process for transgender youth

Posted January 30, 2020 1:10 p.m. EST

— The South Dakota House of Representatives on Wednesday passed a bill that would criminalize doctors who assist in the gender reassignment process for transgender youth, pushing the state closer to becoming the first to pass such a restriction.

The Republican-controlled chamber passed HB 1057, known as the Vulnerable Child Protection Act, by a vote of 46 to 23. The bill would make it a misdemeanor for physicians or any other medical professionals to perform gender reassignment surgeries on minors or to provide patients 16 and younger with hormones.

A doctor found in violation of the proposed restriction could face up to one year in jail or a fine of not more than $2,000. The bill does, though, allow doctors to perform surgery on infants who are born intersex, a term used for a variety of conditions in which a person is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy and/or chromosome pattern that do not seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male.

The bill's sponsor, Republican state Rep. Fred Deutsch, told CNN on Thursday that he was "grateful" the bill "passed the House with such strong support."

The proposal now heads to the state's Republican-controlled Senate, where Deutsch said he looks forward to making the case "that every child in South Dakota should be protected from dangerous drugs and treatments."

A study published earlier this month in the medical journal Pediatrics, however, said pubertal suppression therapy could significantly diminish their chances of suicide and mental health problems.

CNN has reached out to Republican Senate Majority Leader Kris Langer and her Democratic counterpart, Sen. Troy Heinert, for comment on the bill.

CNN has also reached out to Republican Gov. Kristi Noem's office for comment. Last week, before the House approved the measure, Noem told reporters that she was monitoring its progress and that she had "a few concerns" about it.

"I would say that when you take public policy and try to fill parenting gaps with more government, you have to be very careful about the precedent you're setting. So that's really the viewpoint I'm looking at it through," she said.

Since the start of the 2020 legislative session, at least six states have proposed measures to restrict transgender minors' access to gender reassignment treatments, including surgery and hormone therapy. Some of the bills would make it illegal for physicians to administer the treatments, while others would classify the act as child abuse. If HB 1057 becomes law, it would make South Dakota the first state to make it illegal for physicians to assist minors in their gender reassignment process.

The state's bill faces opposition from several LGBTQ and medical advocacy groups, including the Human Rights Campaign, which said the bill would send a discouraging message to transgender youth.

"If HB 1057 were to become law, it would send a strong message to trans youth that they are less than their peers and that lawmakers in the Capitol know better than doctors, parents and trans youth," Alphonso David, HRC's president, said in a statement on Wednesday.

In a letter to South Dakota's House State Affairs Committee last week, the American Medical Association's CEO James Madara urged lawmakers to reject the bill, which he said could prevent transgender youth from having the "opportunity to explore their gender identity under the safe and supportive care of a physician."

Earlier this week, Deutsch expressed regret after comparing doctors who assist in the gender reassignment process to Nazi experiments that occurred during the Holocaust.

"I just don't think it should be done," he said last week of gender reassignment procedures. "I think -- you know, I'm the son of a Holocaust survivor. I've had family members killed in Auschwitz. And I've seen the pictures of the bizarre medical experiments. I don't want that to happen to our kids. And that's what's going on right now."

The lawmaker told CNN on Tuesday that his comments were "regrettable."

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