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South Dakota bill could criminalize treating trans youth

For many transgender youth, accessing healthcare is already a challenge. Now, some states want to make it even more difficult. This week, South Dakota will vote on a bill that would criminalize treating trans youth. Although the bill's supporters claim they want to help children, if passed, the law will only cause more harm.

Introduced into the legislature by Republican lawmakers, House Bill 1057 would make it a misdemeanor for doctors to "change or affirm the minor's perception of the minor's sex." Specifically focused on youth under the age of 16, the bill criminalizes hormone therapy, prescribing puberty blockers, and any surgical procedures.

During a committee hearing last week, the bill's main sponsor, state Rep. Fred Deutsch (R), said, "The procedures listed in the bill are not health care but criminal acts against vulnerable children."

While trans children are indeed vulnerable, the harm comes from transphobic lawmakers and bills like HB 1057. If trans youth are unable to receive treatment from their doctors, they will find alternative methods. Dr. Madeline Deutsch, the director of transgender care at the University of San Francisco (she is unrelated to the South Dakota representative), also noted the bill could have impacts outside of the state.

“These laws will harm children,” she told Vice. “These laws will not only be harmful, because of denying children access to treatment, but laws like this will discourage many providers from providing treatment anywhere and could result in people who are treating adults to think twice.”

If HB 1057 wasn't shady enough, it also codifies a restrictive definition of sex as "the biological state of being female or male, based on sex organs, chromosomes, and endogenous hormone profiles." Then, it goes on to only make exceptions for surgical or hormonal intervention for intersex youth.

In other words, the bill makes room to allow for "corrective" surgeries that have long been called out as invasive and abusive by intersex people and even denounced by the state of California. One primary issue being that "corrective" surgeries are often performed on infants who are unable to consent with lasting psychological and physiological harm.

Similarly, bills like HB 1057 will cause trans youth significant harm. Studies have routinely shown shocking rates of attempted or completed suicide among trans youth. On Thursday, a study in the journal Pediatrics found that trans youth who receive treatments like puberty blockers are less likely to have suicidal ideation over their lifetime.

This is not the first time that South Dakota has attempted to target trans youth. In 2016, Deutsch sponsored a bathroom bill. Although it did gain traction, the bill was vetoed by then-Gov. Dennis Daugaard (R).

The vote on HB 1057 has been delayed to Wednesday. Because Republicans hold a supermajority in the legislature, it is expected to make its way to Gov. Kristi Noem's desk. However, Noem, a Republican, has said she has a few concerns about it and will be watching the debates around the law.