Parents lose right to direct gender-affirming care for transgender minors under Senate bill

Measure passes 36-12; moves to the House

By: - March 1, 2023 6:45 am

Senators voted to advance a bill that would ban gender-affirming care for transgender minors on Tuesday. (Getty Images)

The Indiana Senate voted 36-12 on Tuesday to approve a bill that would ban gender-affirming health care for transgender minors. 

“It’s common sense public policy to protect your children from unproven, irreversible and life-altering decisions,” Sen. Tyler Johnson, R-Leo, said. “A child cannot understand the weight and permanency of these decisions.”

Sen. Tyler Johnson talks on the House floor before the State of the State address in January 2023. (Monroe Bush for Indiana Capital Chronicle)

Johnson’s bill would ban the use of puberty blockers, hormone replacement therapies and surgical procedures – but only if the minor is diagnosed with gender dysphoria. Johnson said that other children could continue to get those “unproven” treatments under other medical diagnoses. 

Medical providers who testified said puberty blockers are generally considered to be reversible and senators introduced studies suggesting that just 0.4% of youth who seek gender-affirming care later regret their decision

Committee testimony last week included zero instances of surgical interventions for transgender minors and the majority of testimony against the bill came from out-of-state, anti-trans activists. When asked directly, Johnson said procedures happened in the state but wouldn’t name any physician, health care system or say how many children were impacted. 

Counseling and mental health services would still be allowed.

Concerns from parents

In particular, parents in committee said the bill would override their rights to make medical decisions for their children. Sen. Andrea Hunley, D-Indianapolis, noted that parents make medical decisions for their children all the time – such as whether to vaccinate against COVID-19 or use hormonal birth control. 

Hunley said that though the effects of hormonal birth control are well documented, parents still have the option to choose which one to use for their children and aren’t barred from any specific type. 

Sen. Andrea Hunley, D-Indianapolis (From the Indiana Senate Democrats)

“It is critical that we’re giving parents the right to do what is best for their child in their unique circumstance,” Hunley said. “We need to maintain parent autonomy over what happens in the doctor’s office and not have state intervention.”

When opposing senators asked Johnson, a physician, several medical or technical questions, he continually fell back on what he called a “medical, moral and legal obligation” to protect kids. He said around 1,000 transgender minors are treated at the Riley Children’s Hospital Gender Health Program

The “extremely vulnerable” population of transgender minors already faces societal barriers to acceptance and report higher rates of bullying, physical assaults and suicide attempts, as detailed by Sen. Shelli Yoder, D-Bloomington. 

“I would argue that we’re bullying children,” Yoder said. “About half of transgender youth report being bullied in school and the last thing we need to do is add to that.”

Three Republicans joined nine Democrats to vote against the bill: Kyle Walker, Ron Alting and Vaneta Becker.

None of those Republicans, nor the other 35 Republicans who voted to advance the bill, spoke on the proposal. The bill now moves to the House for further consideration.


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Whitney Downard
Whitney Downard

A native of upstate New York, Whitney previously covered statehouse politics for CNHI’s nine Indiana papers, focusing on long-term healthcare facilities and local government. Prior to her foray into Indiana politics, she worked as a general assignment reporter for The Meridian Star in Meridian, Mississippi. Whitney is a graduate of St. Bonaventure University (#GoBonnies!), a community theater enthusiast and cat mom.