House passes ban on gender-affirming care for minors

By: - March 21, 2023 1:06 pm

Sen. Tyler Johnson, R-Leo, introduces his bill to ban gender-affirming care for Hoosier youth. (Whitney Downard/Indiana Capital Chronicle)

A House health committee advanced a bill Tuesday that would ban gender-affirming care for minors over the pleas of parents, doctors and transgender youth.

“My child is 16 and I can tell you before he started in hormone therapy he was withdrawn, he didn’t have friends… there was a point when he didn’t leave the house,” Westville parent Alisha Hunter told the committee. “This (ban) will be life altering for my child… He’s happy and that will all change.”

Hunter shared her son’s multi-year journey, saying that her family was considering leaving the state — a sentiment shared by multiple other families who testified against the proposal. 

The bill would ban the use of puberty blockers, hormone replacement therapies and surgical procedures – but only if the minor is diagnosed with gender dysphoria. Bill author Sen. Tyler Johnson said other children could continue to get those “irreversible, unproven and life-altering” treatments under other medical diagnoses. 

Rep. Brad Barrett, R-Richmond — who chairs the committee — didn’t allow amendments to the bill, saying those decisions would be made in front of the full House Chamber.

Hoosiers rally against a bill that would ban gender-affirming healthcare for transgender youth at the Indiana Statehouse. (Whitney Downard/Indiana Capital Chronicle)

“I hear stories from adults about their regrets and some of the harms done to them as minors,” said Johnson, a Republican doctor from Leo. “A child cannot understand the weight and permanency of these decisions.”

Counseling and mental health services would still be allowed.

The bill passed 8-5, with one Republican joining the four Democrats to vote no.

Most legislators quiet about votes

Few of the GOP lawmakers justified their vote, though Rep. Ann Vermilion, of Marion, said she felt there were too many unknowns to support the bill. 

“Quite frankly this is a difficult topic and I think it needs a legislative study,” Vermilion said. “I just don’t think I’m getting the full picture, that we’re getting a full picture.”

Rep. Dennis Zent, R-Angola, also shared his thoughts, saying testimony about changing ideals in Europe influenced his affirmative vote.

Other representatives asked pointed questions during testimony but didn’t ultimately disclose the reasoning behind their vote.

The bill split physicians and is part of a nationwide effort to dictate how parents raise their transgender children. However, the number of children pursuing this treatment is small. 

According to an analysis of insurance claims between 2017 and 2021 for 40 million children, just 4,780 youth between 6 and 17 used puberty blockers while 14,726 used hormone therapies. 

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In terms of surgical interventions, 776 patients underwent a mastectomy and just 56 youth between the ages of 13 and 17 had genital surgeries over the course of three years. Testimony has affirmed that surgeries on minors don’t occur in Indiana.

Democrat Rep. Rita Fleming, a retired OBGYN, shared the story of a distant family member whose daughter committed suicide after her family responded with vitriol, rather than acceptance to her identity questions.

“There was not opportunity for counseling or treatment,” Fleming said before voting no.

In response to testimony, she noted that puberty blockers have been considered reversible since their introduction in the 1980s to treat “precocious puberty,” or early on-set puberty.

“They’re prescribed knowing that a child will be taken off of these drugs at a certain age or certain stage of puberty,” Fleming, D-Jeffersonville, said. 

To a more limited extent, hormone therapies are also considered to be reversible gender-affirming care.

A previous version of this article incorrectly identified the number of trans youth who sought gender-affirming medical interventions, including mastectomies, puberty blockers and hormone therapies. The story has been updated.


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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.