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SD Lawmakers Consider Restricting Medical Care for Transgender Youth

Legislation under consideration at the South Dakota Capitol would criminalize doctors for providing gender transition treatment to children younger than age 16 "when such procedures are done to cause the minor to feel or appear as the opposite sex." (healthy women.org)
Legislation under consideration at the South Dakota Capitol would criminalize doctors for providing gender transition treatment to children younger than age 16 "when such procedures are done to cause the minor to feel or appear as the opposite sex." (healthy women.org)
January 28, 2020

PIERRE, S.D. -- A South Dakota bill that would punish doctors who provide treatments for transgender youths is similar to others making their way through state legislatures this year. House Bill 1057 would punish doctors who treat patients younger than age 16 for certain gender-transition procedures.

If approved, the law would criminalize such medical treatment by imposing a one year jail sentence and a maximum fine of up to $2,000. At its first hearing last week, former South Dakota Attorney General Roger Tellinghuisen urged lawmakers to reject the bill.

"Transgender children tend to be some of the most vulnerable kids that we have in our society. They have a higher rate of suicidal thoughts," Tellinghuisen said. "And this bill does nothing to help them in terms of their journey through life."

Tellinghuisen said he believes South Dakota's Republican super-majority in the Legislature has prompted outside groups to use the state as a testing ground for conservative measures. Other states with pending legislation affecting transgendered youth include Kentucky, Georgia and Texas.

Gov. Kristi Noem expressed concern about the legislation last week, but wouldn't say if she would sign it. Should it pass, the South Dakota ACLU has vowed to challenge the bill in the courts.

South Dakota ACLU Policy Director Libby Skarin said transgender issues are for parents and their children, not the government, to decide.

"What this bill would do instead is say that you as a parent aren't qualified to make these decisions for your child, or we as the government don't trust you to care for your child, so we are going to make these decisions for you," Skarin said.

She said legislation targeting transgender individuals has been ongoing for years. In 2016, South Dakota's Legislature passed a bill, later vetoed by the former governor, that would have limited transgender students' bathroom access.

Skarin said instead of focusing on those already marginalized, lawmakers should focus on problems faced by a majority of South Dakota residents.

"This bill is taking up a lot of the air in the state Legislature," she said. "It's sucking up so much of the public conversation that would be better spent talking about real problems that we have in the state."

During the four-hour hearing last week, representatives from the South Dakota State Medical Association and Sanford Health testified that the bill goes against "best practices."

Roz Brown, Public News Service - SD