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Utah ban on gender-affirming health care draws pushback

A brown-skinned child looks up and off to the side.
Rushay Booysen @rushay
Adobe Stock

The American Academy of Pediatrics' Utah chapter said politics do not belong in the exam room or in the decision-making process between providers, patients and families. The group is concerned the new law could endanger the physical and mental health of some young Utahns.

Dr. Ellie Brownstein, president of the chapter, said transgender youth are already in a high-risk population needing appropriate and adequate care. She fears lawmakers have diminished doctors' ability to offer it.

"I've already heard from one family who has set up care in an outside state, so that their child can get the care that they feel like they need," Brownstein reported. "That's not available to everybody, so you do have a whole group that will not have that as an option," said Dr. Brownstein.

The law is one of many similar measures conservative states have passed to restrict this kind of care. Brownstein explained most transgender youth go through a gradual transition. It is not until puberty or later they may consider hormone therapy, puberty blockers or surgery. She fears the new law will lead some to seek alternative forms of care online.

The Utah law bars all minors from receiving gender-affirming surgeries, and places an indefinite moratorium on kids under 18 receiving puberty blockers or hormone therapy. Supporters of the bill say long-term research in this medical field is lacking. Brownstein's group also wants to see more research, but added it must be conducted in ways to support transgender youth instead of invalidating them.

"I get the impression of these stories I hear of, like, I walked in and said, 'I think I'm male, not female,' and someone said, 'Cool, here are your hormones, go home.' And I would say the process is nothing like that," Brownstein asserted. "It involves psychology, it involves time," said Brownstein.

Studies have shown gender-affirming care for youth can reduce emotional distress, improve overall well-being and reduce the risk of suicide. In Utah, civil rights groups have already said they plan to challenge the law in court