Ohio’s GOP governor vetoes ban on gender-affirming care and transgender athletes in girls’ sports

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By SAMANTHA HENDRICKSON and JULIE CARR SMYTH (Associated Press/Report For America)

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Republican Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine vetoed a measure Friday that would have banned gender-affirming care for minors, casting the action out of step with many in his own party as thoughtful, limited and “pro-life.”

He simultaneously announced plans to move to administratively ban transgender surgeries until a person is 18, and to position the state to better regulate and track gender-affirming treatments in both children and adults.

The vetoed bill also would have banned transgender athletes’ participation in girls’ and women’s sports.

At a news conference, DeWine said he is proposing a hybrid approach to gender-affirming care that he hopes can win the support of legislative Republicans — who have the votes to override his veto, if they choose — as well as serve as a national model to states, as gender-affirming care restrictions enacted across the country in recent years face lawsuits.

He said he listened to people on both sides of the legislation who all “sincerely and truly believe their position best protects children,” ultimately deciding he could not support legislation that bans healthcare that so many patients, families and doctors told him is saving lives.

“Ultimately, these tough, tough decisions should not be made by the government. They should not be made by the state of Ohio,” DeWine said. “They should be made by the people who love these kids the most, and that’s the parents. The parents who have raised that child, the parents who have seen that child go through agony, the parents who worry about that child every single day of their life.”

DeWine said he does not see that position as inconsistent with his opposition to November’s Issue 1, a successful abortion rights amendment whose backers similarly argued that government has no place in individuals’ personal reproductive decisions.

“On the abortion issue, I believe that’s a question of life and protecting human life,” the governor said. “I believe, ultimately, my decision here was ultimately made about protecting life, and that is the lives of these children.”

Hundreds of opponents testified against Ohio’s multifaceted measure when it was moving through the Legislature, including medical and mental health providers, education professionals, faith leaders, parents of transgender children and transgender individuals themselves.

They decried the legislation as cruel, life threatening to transgender youth and based on fearmongering rather than science.

The measure would have prohibited Ohio minors from taking puberty blockers and undergoing other hormone therapies or receiving gender reassignment surgery that would further align them with their gender identity. It would, however, have allowed any minor who is an Ohio resident to continue treatment they are currently receiving.

Statehouse Republicans, who passed the legislation earlier this month without Democratic support, hold enough seats to override DeWine’s veto, but if or when they would do so was not immediately clear. Both within and between chambers, the party has not been in lockstep this year.

DeWine said he agreed with the Legislature in a number of areas, launching a three-pronged approach to addressing key concerns surfaced by the legislative debate.

First, he directed state agencies to begin the rule-making process for restricting gender-affirming surgeries to adults. He said his conversations with families and a number of Ohio children’s hospitals revealed that it’s a “fallacy out there that this goes right to surgery.”

DeWine said he also agreed with the Legislature that comprehensive data on who is receiving gender-affirming care is lacking, making it difficult to understand the scope of the issue. As a result, he is directing relevant agencies to begin the process of setting up a data tracking system, through which various gender-affirming treatments received by both minors and adults would be reported to the state, to be shared with the Legislature and the public.

Thirdly, the governor said his administration will draft rules and restrictions to prevent families from being victimized by “pop-up clinics or fly-by-night operations,” and to assure they receive “adequate counseling” regarding gender-affirming care.

Ultimately, the bill would have banned gender-affirming care for a small number of Ohio children, “but for those children who face gender dysphoria, and for their families, the consequences of this bill could not be more profound,” DeWine said.

“While there are rare times in the law in other circumstances where the state overrules the medical decisions made by the parents, I can think of no examples where this is done where it is not only against the decision of the parent, but also against the medical judgment of the treating physician and against the judgment of the treating team of medical experts,” he said.

Since 2021, more than 20 states have enacted laws restricting or banning such treatments, despite them having been available in the United States for more than a decade and long endorsed by major medical associations. Most of those states face lawsuits, but courts have issued mixed rulings.

The bill also would have required public K-12 schools and universities to designate separate teams for male and female sexes, and explicitly banned transgender girls and women from participating in sports that align with their gender identity. Supporters argued that banning transgender athletes from girls and women’s sports maintains the integrity of those sports and ensures fairness.

At least 20 states have passed some version of a ban on transgender athletes playing on K-12 and collegiate sports teams statewide. Those bans would be upended by a regulation proposed by President Joe Biden’s administration that is set to be finalized early next year.

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Associated Press writer Brooke Schultz in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, contributed to this report.

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Ohio’s GOP governor vetoes ban on gender-affirming care and transgender athletes in girls’ sports

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