Elinor Smith

HELENA -- The Senate Judiciary committee heard testimony Friday on a bill that would restrict Montana children from receiving gender affirming care.

The hearing took just over five hours, and, at times, proponents and opponents lined up outside the doors waiting for their turn to testify.  

Sen. John Fuller, R-Kalispell, sponsored Senate Bill 99 – which would limit people under the age of 18 who experience gender dysphoria from getting medical care like gender affirming surgeries or hormone replacement therapy.

It would also penalize doctors who provide such treatments with a year suspension of their medical license and legal liability for up to 25 years after the child turns 18. And, it would prohibit hospitals that provide such care from receiving money from the state of Montana. 

Fuller says allowing children to make permanent and life-alterning changes to their bodies before the legal age of consent would be child abuse.  

“Protecting children from surgical procedures that are purely cosmetic and irreversible is necessary and proper. For those that claim that this bill is injecting government into the sacred relationship of a family and their health provider, I would argue that is a false premise. Health professionals take an oath to do no harm and altering the physical appearance of a child without their majority consent is unconscionable,” Fuller said.   

There were 45 proponents of the bill which included medical professionals, parents, advocates and people who have transitioned and said they later regretted it. Walt Heyer was a proponent of the bill. He transitioned and lived as a woman for many years until he underwent additional therapy and decided to detransition. He now runs a website where he helps others detransition. He spoke to the impact and dangers of detransitioning on anyone let alone young people.

“I've got over 10,000 emails that have come to me over the last 13 years from people who are asking for help to detransition or to talk about their sex change regret. And the ages go down as low as 12 years old to 74 and everywhere in between,” Heyer said. 

The 92 opponents of the bill included medical professionals, trans youth, parents and advocates. Opponents said gender affirming medical care has a profound benefit to trans youth, and said the bill was unconstitutional by violating Montanans’ right to privacy. S.K. Rossi represented the city of Bozeman and the non-binary community in Montana. They testified as an opponent of the bill.  

It's also simultaneously attacking our medical community and dismissing every legitimate expert in the field of gender related care, both nationally and in Montana. At a time when the halls of this building are filled with cries for parental rights, protecting medical autonomy and freedom and cries for protecting privacy, this bill runs afoul of all three of those principles,” Rossi said. 

Numerous opponents of the bill brought up high suicide rates amoung transgender youth, some sharing their own experience with suicidal ideation and survived suicide attempts as a result of gender dysphoria. According to a report released through the Montana Departmet of Health and Human Services half of transgender or non-binary youth experiencing gender dysphoria will seriously think committing suicide. Opponents of the bill said access to gender affirming medical care can help lessen the likelihood of trangender youth attempting, contemplating or committing suicide.

During questions from the committee Sen. Andrea Olsen, D-Missoula, brought up concerns of the constitutionality of the bill as well as the effect it would have on Medicaid in Montana. Pediatrician and President of the Montana chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics Dr. Lauren Wilson said the bill would also have severe unforeseen consequences on cisgender Montanans seeking medical care out of state. 

“It's also important to note that there is care that is not provided in Montana, particularly like when a child needs a transplant or they need, specific types of neurosurgery or cancer treatment, they leave the state and go to a center like Seattle, Denver, or Salt Lake -- all of which offer gender affirming care. And so this bill effectively would mean that children on Medicaid can't get heart surgeries out of state either,” Wilson said. 

The committee did not take immediate action on the bill.