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House to consider gender-affirming surgery ban after judiciary debate

CHARLESTON — West Virginia’s full House of Delegates will consider legislation that would ban physicians from providing gender-affirming surgery to minors.

The original version of House Bill 2007, “Prohibiting certain medical practices,” focused on irreversible gender-affirming surgery. A revised version advanced Monday by the House Judiciary Committee also includes gender-altering medication.

Members of the House Judiciary Committee debated the bill among themselves for about an hour Monday, but there was no testimony from medical experts, transgender people, youths or even parents.

Opponents questioned the rationale behind the bill, contending it focuses on treatment for minors that doesn’t happen in West Virginia. Supporters pointed generally toward news coverage of gender-affirming surgery elsewhere and said the policy is meant to ensure West Virginia doesn’t face the possibility.

Utah’s government just made law of a ban on gender-affirming surgery for minors. That state’s new law also disallows hormone treatments for minors who have not yet been diagnosed with gender dysphoria.

Gender affirming surgery refers to procedures that help people transition to their self-identified gender.

“Is gender reassignment surgery currently offered to people under 18 years of age in West Virginia?” Delegate Evan Hansen, D-Monongalia, asked the Judiciary Committee’s staff counsel.

Hansen continued, “Would it surprise you to hear that after consulting with people who provide this type of care that it is not offered in West Virginia?”

And he asked, “Have you looked at the positions of the major medical organizations, the national medical organizations with respect to gender affirming care?“

With no expert testimony, Delegate Joey Garcia, a Democrat from Marion County, asked more follow-up questions to the bill’s lead sponsor, Delegate Geoff Foster, R-Putnam.

“Are you aware that any of these types of surgeries happen for individuals under the age of 18 in West Virginia?” Garcia asked.

Foster responded by citing the broadened version of the bill, describing 13 centers in West Virginia that provide gender-affirming care.

Garcia followed up, “but the surgeries, that’s specifically what I’m talking about. That does not happen in the state of West Virginia for those under 18 years old now currently, correct?”

Foster said “that doesn’t mean that it couldn’t happen tomorrow.” He continued, “It’s something that’s being done already in other states, and that’s why it concerns us.”

Delegate Mike Honaker, R-Greenbrier, also took the broad view.

“Social norms in America are changing, some drastic. I keep hearing people say — I’ve heard it from last session to this session when we approach legislation — we say ‘Is this a problem now? Did this happen yesterday or last month or last year? Why are we doing this?’

“And when people of average intelligence like me hear that argument, to me it sounds like we’re paving a big, long straightaway, a big highway and we’re saying ‘OK, there’s the road. Now we’re not going to make any speed limits or make it illegal to drive drunk until a lot of bad stuff happens on that road and then we’ll figure out a speed limit, why people shouldn’t drink and drive, all of that.’”

He too made reference to media coverage from elsewhere.

“In the media across America, whether we like it or not, we all watch it every day and they are forecasting to us the direction this country is going. We watch the news every day and you say, ‘That’s not happening in West Virginia.’ It’s happening somewhere because they’re talking about it on the news today. This is happening somewhere.”