Governor Holcomb signs ban on medical transition for children under 18

Indiana became the twelfth state to prohibit doctors from providing medical gender transition services to minors on April 5 when SB 480 was signed into law. The new law defines gender transition procedures such as hormone therapy and gender reassignment surgeries performed on minors as a violation of “the standards of the [medical] practice.” 

Such a designation means that doctors who violate this law “will be subject to discipline by the board regulating the physician or practitioner.” Additionally, doctors who continue to perform such procedures on minors will be civilly liable for damages incurred by the patients and their families under the law. 

Lawmakers in the Indiana State Senate that drafted and proposed the new law cited the irreversible nature of such gender transition procedures as a reason to ban their use for minors. One of the co-authors of the new law, state Senator Tyler Johnson, an emergency medical physician himself, explained his reasoning when the legislation was first proposed: “Since these procedures have irreversible and life-altering effects, it is appropriate and necessary for our state to make sure these procedures are performed only on adults who can make the decision on their own behalf.” 

SB 480 quickly passed through the Republican supermajorities in both chambers of the Indiana Statehouse, with all Democratic amendments defeated by an overwhelming vote. But, there was a great deal of uncertainty surrounding whether Governor Eric Holcomb would sign the bill into law after he intially described it as “clear as mud.” 

Holcomb reiterated his concerns in a statement announcing his decision to sign the bill into law: “Permanent gender-changing surgeries with lifelong impacts and medically prescribed preparation for such a transition should occur as an adult, not as a minor. There has and will continue to be debate within the medical community about the best ways to provide physical and mental health care for adolescents who are struggling with their own gender identity, and it is important that we recognize and understand those struggles are real. With all of that in mind, I have decided to sign SB 480 into law.” 

Holcomb, though, had little power to stop the bill becoming law. If he had he waited a few more days, the bill would have automatically become law through his inaction. And, if he had vetoed the bill instead of signing it, GOP supermajorities in the Indiana House and Senate likely would have overridden his decision. 

Upon Holcomb signing the bill, the Hoosier state joined a list of twelve states that have taken similar measures, including Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee, Utah, South Dakota and West Virginia. In two of these states, Alabama and Arkansas, enforcement of the similar laws has been temporarily blocked by the federal courts. 

The national American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the ACLU of Indiana jointly sued the state the same day that Gov. Holcomb signed the law, calling the law “devastating to trans youth and their families, causing them serious injuries and forcing those who can, to uproot their lives and leave the state to access the gender-affirming care they need.” 

On campus, the permissibility of medical gender transitions for minors has been debated for years by students and academics. The campus club Students for Child-Oriented Policy (SCOP) has often been at the forefront of advocating for such protective restrictions as were passed by the Indiana Legislature. 

Because of this support for restrictions on medical gender transitions for minors, SCOP found itself in a conflict with the Notre Dame Gender Studies Program a few years ago, when the department hosted a panel in direct response to a SCOP event on the same issue.

In this 2020 panel, a group of visiting academics invited by Gender Studies expressed the idea that when “a child tells you who they are, that’s who they are” and advocated for medical practices that reflect that perspective. This panel sparked a campus controversy regarding whether such views that contradict Catholic teaching on gender ought to be expressed on campus without any balancing voice present on the panel to represent the Catholic position.

Three years after the campus controversy over the issue, current SCOP co-president Evan Bursch told the Rover that he’s happy to see SCOP’s position win out in law: “SCOP greatly applauds this measure by the Indiana Legislature, as it both saves Indiana children from the lifelong impacts of traumatic surgeries and demonstrates a commitment to the protection of minors more broadly. Overall, this is a positive trend, and SCOP hopes it continues across other states as well as in the federal government.”

Most GOP legislators justified their support for SB 480 on arguments based upon the inability of children to make such long-lasting decisions, rather than on moral problems with medical gender transitions in general.

Regarding this approach from GOP legislators, Bursch was understanding: “Due to the overwhelming influence of gender ideology on societal and cultural norms, approaching these laws from this standpoint is understandable and likely helpful in the public conception of them. Additionally, there is a clear connection between enacted laws and jurisprudence on the mores and opinions of the public, so in the long run, moral legal arguments will likely be received more favorably.”

Barring any legal issues arising from the ACLU’s lawsuit, the law is set to take effect on July 1.

Luke Thompson is a junior from Flagstaff, Arizona majoring in the Program of Liberal Studies, political science, and theology. He enjoys road-tripping and watching Dodger baseball, both with a La Croix in hand. If you can’t find him wandering around the lakes, email him at lthomps7@nd.edu.

Photo Credit: Indiana House of Representatives, Wikimedia Commons

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