Indiana governor says bill to ban gender-affirming care for minors is “clear as mud”

Gov. Eric Holcomb is closing in on decision; emphasizes bill isn’t part of his legislative agenda

By: - April 4, 2023 1:25 pm

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb, a Republican, talks to reporters Tuesday, April 4, 2023.(Casey Smith/Indiana Capital Chronicle)

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb said Tuesday he’s nearing a decision on a bill that would ban gender-affirming care for minors, though he has yet to say definitively where he stands on the matter. 

The Republican governor faces a Wednesday deadline to act on Senate Bill 480. He can sign the bill, veto it — with an assured override from the GOP supermajority in the General Assembly — or let it become law without his signature.

Holcomb told reporters Tuesday that he will “take action” before the deadline.

“There will be action taken, whether it be by me or not. But I have made it a habit to either sign or veto bills, and I suspect that habit will continue,” he said.

The governor noted he’s read through “every word” of the bill “more than once” since lawmakers advanced it to his desk last week.

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

Holcomb maintained that the measure wasn’t part of his legislative agenda and said he’s been talking with lawmakers, physicians and legal counsel to inform his decision-making. 

“I wanted to dig deep,” he said. “I’ve told some people very close to me, this is clear as mud. There’s some vagueness to it. So, I want to make sure I completely understand it … I wanted to get a full picture of it.”

“As I reviewed and talked to legislators … I think their intent is to address the care for the child and what’s permissible in the state of Indiana. And so there, of course, is a balance,” Holcomb continued. “But there are a number of issues that affect children that are in law — not just this — for their health and well being, and I will categorize this as their intent.”

2022 sports ban

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.

The governor said his thinking on this bill is different from last year’s, however.

Holcomb pointed to the Indiana High School Athletic Association’s policy to prevent unfair competition that was already in place and “working” before lawmakers advanced the earlier measure.

“There was no issue in my judgment … we did not need that bill,” he said of his decision to veto last year’s proposal. “I think it may be easy to compare the two now, but they’re different.”

​​Lawmakers in both chambers heard hours of testimony directly from parents urging them to reconsider the gender-affirming care ban, saying such medical care saved their children’s lives. Many said they were looking to leave the state if the bill becomes law.

Supporters believe the treatment is experimental and irreversible and should wait until the child is an adult.

Still, few Hoosier children will be impacted by this bill. Less 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.

“I want to make sure, as I’m doing with every other bill that has an impact on Hoosiers’ lives, that I put the proper amount of analysis into it before making the ultimate decision,” Holcomb said. “Obviously, the clock’s ticking.”


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Casey Smith
Casey Smith

A lifelong Hoosier, Casey Smith previously reported on the Indiana Legislature for The Associated Press. Internationally, she has reported on water quality across South America. She holds a master’s degree in investigative reporting and narrative science writing from the University of California/Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism. She previously earned degrees in journalism, anthropology and Spanish from Ball State University, where she now serves as an instructor of journalism.