87th LegislatureHealthcareState SenateBan on Puberty Blockers, Sex-Altering Surgeries for Children Passes Hurdle But Nears Deadline

The proposed ban by Sen. Bob Hall would target doctors, not parents. Looming deadlines may kill it in a week.
May 17, 2021
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The Texas Senate gave the nod to a proposed ban on sex-altering procedures for children, one of the few that remain in the legislature.

Similar to the only House bill of its kind that made it out of committee but died without a vote last week, Senate Bill (SB) 1311 would prohibit doctors from administering puberty blockers or performing surgeries to change a child’s sex. It makes an exception for intersex children.

State Sen. Bob Hall (R-Friendswood), the bill’s author, faced opposition from Democrats on the grounds that the bill could deny equal protection to transgender youths, quell business growth, and deter new pediatricians from practicing in Texas.

Sen. José Menéndez (D-San Antonio) claimed that the bill discriminated against transgender children and those going through precocious puberty since it would deny them access to procedures that it allows for intersex children.

“You’re taking away their autonomy from them because you single them out,” Menéndez said.

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“By sheer virtue of what your bill does, it denies due process and will be found unconstitutional.”

Hall said the exception for intersex children is not discriminatory since inconsistent sex features are a physical condition while gender dysphoria is a psychological condition that, Hall claims, most children outgrow.

The debate between Hall and Menéndez eventually turned statistical when Menéndez questioned Hall’s claim that over 90 percent of children that feel gender dysphoria shed their confusion by adulthood. Similar numbers arose during the Senate’s passage of a similar ban that would have classified gender reassignment as child abuse. Testifiers and the senators themselves have tended to coalesce around two studies: one that tracked adults who underwent gonadectomies and overwhelmingly did not regret their decisions, and another study of boys with gender dysphoria who overwhelmingly resolved their gender-dissonant feelings after puberty.

Sen. Beverly Powell (D-Burleson) argued that SB 1311 would have a negative economic impact, claiming as a reverse example that anti-discrimination laws have drawn the attention and business of companies like Facebook to some Texas towns.

“It’s clear that employers across the state are in opposition to this bill,” Powell said.

Hall responded simply, saying that the issue’s moral weight mattered more than fiscal “speculation.”

“It was wrong yesterday. It is wrong today. It will be wrong tomorrow,” he said of performing the procedures on children.

Menéndez offered three amendments to the bill. One would allow the procedures for children in precocious puberty, another would allow them for children with depression or anxiety, and another would clarify that the bill would not retroactively punish past treatments. All three failed 15 to 17.

Democratic members noted that many medical associations testified against Hall’s bill and others like it. Sen. Sarah Eckhardt (D-Austin) foretold stunted growth in Texas’ pediatric field if the bill were to pass, claiming new potential doctors might choose other states.

“I’m not sure why we’d want them here in Texas,” Hall answered.

SB 1311 passed without the support of Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. (D-Brownsville), an avowedly pro-life member who occasionally joins Republicans on social issues. Lucio spoke against the bill, condemning sex transitions for minors but saying he did not want to punish them with government action.

“I think again it’s a moral responsibility that we have to try to understand that we do have a responsibility, a major responsibility, to let God’s will be done, especially when it comes to life. However, I think the fact that we’re prohibiting physicians from performing surgery… providing drugs… is something that I personally do not want to support,” Lucio said.

“I really think parents trying to change the sex of a child should think twice… I also don’t want to take part in punishing anyone at this point that participated in such an endeavor.”

Hall spoke for his bill in similar terms of moral obligation.

“I think we have a responsibility for protecting children,” Hall said.

“I think our job is to protect those who can’t protect themselves.”

Because legislative deadlines give Senate bills a longer lifespan than House Bills, SB 1311 is in a unique position. All House bills seeking to limit these procedures for children have died, most in the House Public Health Committee where their Senate companions are all pending. SB 1311 is the only ban on child gender reassignment in the Texas legislature that has not yet reached this committee.

Though the deadline for House committees to act on House bills has passed — leaving all pending bills dead as of May 10 — they have until May 22 to act on Senate bills. The full House chamber has until May 25.

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Isaiah Mitchell

Isaiah Mitchell is a reporter for The Texan, a Texas native, and a huge Allman Brothers fan. He graduated cum laude from Trinity University in 2020 with a degree in English. Isaiah loves playing music and football with his family.