Bill eliminating parents’ authority over medical decisions heads to governor

By: - March 27, 2023 3:53 pm
medical authority

Rep. Joanna King, R-Middlebury, introduces a bill that would ban parents from directing their child’s gender-affirming healthcare. (Whitney Downard/Indiana Capital Chronicle)

A bill restricting the authority of parents over medical decisions for their transgender children advanced to the governor’s desk Monday after passing the House in a 65-30 vote.

In addition to the mental health impacts upon transgender youth, Democrats like Rep. Carey Hamilton decried the bill as one in a series of culture war issues and government overreach that will drive away workers and medical professionals interested in working in Indiana.

“Telling our young families that they will not have autonomy over children’s healthcare will drive families to other states. States where the beliefs of some are not foisted upon all,” Hamilton, D-Indianapolis, said. 

Because the House didn’t alter the Senate version of the bill – barring amendments in committee and defeating Democratic attempts on the floor – the measure heads straight to Gov. Eric Holcomb’s desk. 

Rep. Carey Hamilton, D-Indianapolis (Photo from Indiana House Democrats)

Holcomb, through his press secretary, didn’t immediately indicate whether he’d sign the bill into law. Last year, Holcomb vetoed a bill that would have barred female transgender student athletes from playing with their peers but the legislature easily overturned his veto.

Under the proposal, parents could no longer authorize gender-affirming care for their children, including puberty blocker, hormone replacement therapy or surgical interventions – though repeated testimony affirmed that no surgeries occur on minors in Indiana. 

The move so infuriated a member of the public who watched from the gallery that they called the members “disgusted, bigoted pieces of (excrement)” before being escorted out of the building by security.

Bill introduction

Rep. Joanna King, R-Middlebury, called the treatments “irreversible, harmful and life-altering,” though the general medical consensus is that both puberty blockers and hormone treatment are mostly reversible. The bill itself acknowledges this and allows cisgender children to pursue those treatments for other diagnoses. 

Lawmakers in both chambers heard directly from parents urging them to reconsider the ban, saying gender-affirming health care saved their children’s lives. Many said they were looking to leave the state in testimony.

Bill author Sen. Tyler Johnson, R-Leo, said underlying “comorbidities” were responsible for high suicide rates. However, recent research from the Washington Post and Kaiser Family Foundation reported that most transgender adults are “more satisfied” with their lives after transitioning and another estimates that 0.4% of adults who transitioned as teens regretted their decision. 

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

An additional study suggests that suicide attempts among LGBTQ youth decrease by 40% when children have just one affirming adult in their lives.

A miniscule number of Hoosier children will be impacted by this bill, as fewer than 1,000 youth seek treatment at the state’s only pediatric hospital, Riley Children’s Hospital, and many only receive counseling or social transitioning assistance from their Gender Health Program.

Parents can still enroll their children in counseling or other mental health services under the proposed ban.

How Republicans voted

Just one Republican other than King justified her vote – Rep. Julie McGuire of Indianapolis, who voted to pass the ban.

Two Republicans joined 28 Democrats to vote against the bill – Rep. Ed Clere, of New Albany, and Rep. Jerry Torr, of Carmel. Two Republicans weren’t present – Rep. Sharon Negele, of Attica, and Rep. Ann Vermilion, Marion. Vermilion voted against the bill in committee.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana said if Holcomb signs the bill into law, the organization would “defend the rights of transgender youth in court.” The ACLU similarly pursued legal action when the ban on female transgender student athletes became law.

“Indiana lawmakers seem hellbent on joining the growing roster of states determined to jeopardize the health and lives of transgender youth, in direct opposition to the overwhelming body of scientific and medical evidence supporting this care as appropriate and necessary,” said Katie Blair, the advocacy and public policy director of the organization.

“The idea that these youth are being pushed into harmful medical care is an insult to their parents who are working very hard to get the best care for their children. Politicians harm us all when they ignore medical judgment and block access to standard care in favor of discriminatory fear-mongering.”


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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.