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New CA Bill Would Limit Genital Surgeries on Intersex Infants

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Sen. Scott Wiener and advocates for intersex Californians met at the state Capitol, pre-COVID, last year. (Eler de Grey)
Sen. Scott Wiener and advocates for intersex Californians met at the state Capitol, pre-COVID, last year. (Eler de Grey)
January 18, 2021

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- A new first-in-the nation bill would limit medically unnecessary surgeries on intersex children in California; that is, on babies born with anatomical differences in their genitalia.

Senate Bill 225 would require parents to wait until the child is six years old to have surgeries that would, for example, reduce a clitoris, move a working urinary opening or create a vagina.

Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, who wrote the bill, said these types of surgeries can cause chronic pain, scarring, or worse.

"These surgeries can have significant side effects, like permanent sterilization or loss of sexual sensation," Wiener contended. "And the wrong gender can be assigned."

Opponents of the bill claimed government should not play a role in these types of decisions by parents and doctors. Supporters countered a six-year delay gives parents time to get to know their child before taking this type of action.

Hans Lindahl, director of communications for InterAct, a group that advocates for intersex youth, said no one is expecting a six-year-old to make a decision, but rather to be old enough to have some input.

"What we're looking for is time for families and doctors to really understand some of the risks of these procedures," Lindahl explained. "And at that point, it usually will become clear in what direction a child's gender identity is shaping up."

Shannan Wilber, youth policy director at the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said these types of surgeries are a throwback to other practices that are now widely condemned, like conversion therapy or surgeries on people with disabilities.

"Hopefully, we'll begin to educate the public about this, so that folks with natural anatomical variations will not be viewed as deviants in some way, or something that needs to be corrected, but just part of natural variations in the human body," Wilber argued.

A similar bill failed in committee last year.

Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - CA