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Illinois lawmaker introduces bill to punish doctors for providing health care to trans people

"It’s trying to get in between a medical professional, parents, and their children."

CREDIT: Getty Images
CREDIT: Getty Images

An new bill in Illinois bill would punish doctors for providing transgender youth with any transition-related health care.

Rep. Tom Morrison’s (R) bill, the Youth Health Prevention Act, would prevent doctors from giving hormone prescriptions, providing transition-related surgeries, or even referring trans youth to another doctor for transition-related health care. If a doctor does, it’ll be considered “unprofessional conduct” subject to discipline, and they could have their license suspended or revoked

Myles Brady Davis, communications manager and press secretary for Equality Illinois, said, “It’s trying to get in between a medical professional, parents, and their children. They’re basically trying to do that because of somebody’s identity. We’re going down a slippery slope if we’re going to allow a lawmaker to discriminate against somebody because of their identity. What if somebody decided he just doesn’t like people with cancer? Are we going to stand in between them and accessing care? It just blows my mind that a bill like that was even introduced.” 

Joshua Safer, executive director for the Center for Transgender Medicine and Surgery at Mount Sinai, told ThinkProgress that it would be a breach of medical ethics to fail to provide health care according to standard guidelines. Safer said it seems “problematic” for a state to make a law obligating physicians to break their oaths.

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Transgender people and experts on transition-related care say this health care is often a matter of life and death. Trans people sometimes seek care through unofficial channels without proper supervision, which puts their lives in danger. Trans people have died through illegal silicone injections, for example. When trans people can’t access necessary health care, their mental health is also put in danger.

Safer said that research shows a high percentage of transgender people have attempted suicide. A 2018 study showed 51 percent of trans male adolescents and 30 percent of trans female adolescents reported having attempted suicide. Forty-two percent of nonbinary youth reported the same

“By contrast, transgender individuals who have treatment provided as needed have mental health concerns closer to what we see in the general population,” he said. “It appears that transgender individuals who seek medical intervention have fewer mental health concerns when that treatment can be provided earlier. That includes patients doing better when they’re able to be treated at younger ages.”

Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago sent out a statement opposing the bill and wrote that their Gender Program clinic provides services to trans youth experiencing gender dysphoria:

Many of our patients develop anxiety or depression due to the severity of their distress. These young people find a tremendous amount of relief from the medical services that we provide. Through the use of medical and surgical interventions, their bodies begin to align more closely with their identities and they are able to focus their mental energy on normal, healthy parts of adolescence, like their studies, relationship building, developing goals for the future, and blossoming into independent adults.

Transgender people often struggle to get coverage for transition-related care. If their state doesn’t have clear anti-discrimination mandates, it’s difficult to get an insurer to cover transition-related care. Transgender people in a number of states have fought to get Medicaid to cover their surgeries.

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They also face discrimination in health care regardless of the kind of health care they’re pursuing. Sometimes transgender people are denied care, abused, or don’t have their gender respected by health care providers. A 2015 National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) study found that a quarter of trans people nationwide decided to delay care due to the possibility of discrimination. A 2010 study from NCTE found that 19 percent of trans people had been denied care.

Several states have tried to punish doctors for providing abortion-related health care. But Gillian Branstetter, spokesperson for the NCTE, said the organization hasn’t seen many anti-trans bills like this one introduced in state legislatures. In South Dakota, Rep. Tom Pischke (R) proposed legislation to give parents the right to refuse transition-related care for their child, but it failed to pass.

On Wednesday, Illinois lawmakers held a hearing for the Youth Health Prevention Act, which is now in the Informed Consent subcommittee.

Davis of Equality Illinois said he doesn’t expect the bill to pass. But the introduction of these kinds of bills in state legislatures sends a worrisome signal.

“Transgender youth face stigma and ignorance throughout their lives, and are often forced to forego medically-necessary care for fear of how their parents, their school, or their peers might react,” Branstetter said. “This bill does nothing but add to that pain by rejecting the overwhelming consensus of the medical and childcare community that transgender youth should be validated, believed, and loved.”