Bill banning gender-affirming surgery for minors passes House vote

Several Republicans who voted down previous version of the proposal supported new effort

Rep. John Fuller, R-Whitefish, speaks in support of HB427 before a vote on the bill on February 24, 2021. (MPAN)

The state House on Wednesday gave preliminary approval to legislation that would ban doctors from prescribing or administering gender-affirming surgery to transgender or non-binary minors in Montana, a reversal of course after lawmakers in the chamber killed a more wide-ranging proposal with similar aims earlier in the session.

House Bill 427 passed 59 to 40, with a handful of Republicans joining a unified Democratic caucus in voting against the bill. The bill bans young Montanans from receiving any surgical “gender transition procedures,” including breast augmentations and mastectomies and any “genital or nongenital gender reassignment surgery performed for the purpose of assisting an individual with a gender transition.”

The bill’s predecessor, HB113, would have not only banned surgical procedures, but also puberty blockers and hormone treatments, which are specifically exempted in HB427. The former bill passed a vote on second reading — the same type of procedure that the House took today — but failed in a dramatic 49-51 final vote that saw several Republicans buck the party line.

Lawmakers in the House still need to take that final vote on HB427, which will go to the Senate if successful.

In an emotional committee hearing earlier in the week, transgender Montanans, medical professionals and other opponents of the bill warned that the the bill would be interject the government in the relationship between a doctor, a patient and their family, to the detriment of the mental and physical health of trans youth in the state.

“HB427 discriminates against young trans people and attempts to get between a medical provider and their patient,” said Rep. Andrea Olsen, D-Missoula, on the House floor Wednesday. “This bill is no less harmful than HB113. This bill denies to transgender youth the healthcare that would remain available to their peers.”

The bill’s language could even leave some surgical procedures that aren’t intended to facilitate transition in murky territory, doctors have warned, something that they say could stifle the recruitment of pediatric specialists to the state.

Opponents of both iterations of the proposal also said the bill would also violate the privacy rights granted in the state constitution.

Rep. Wendy McKamey, R-Ulm, was one of the Republicans who voted against HB113 but supported HB427. She said Wednesday that the current bill “does not so egregiously interfere with the constitutional guarantee of parental prerogative” as its predecessor.

Both proposals, including a separate bill that would force transgender students to participate in scholastic or collegiate athletics according to their gender assigned at birth, are sponsored by Rep. John Fuller, R-Whitefish.

“This bill is to protect children from the imposition of surgical procedures while they are a minor,” Fuller said Wednesday. “For those that claim this is violating the sacred premise that we’re interjecting between a medical professional and a family, I would urge that this is a false premise.”

Fuller’s bill would subject doctors who conduct the procedures in question — or even provide a referral — to discipline by their licensing authority. Additionally, a patient who receive the surgery could bring legal action against their doctor until they turn 27.

Democrats last week tried to prevent HB427 from coming to the floor, arguing that it violates rules preventing the Legislature from taking up a bill that it had already killed. Republicans on the House Rules Committee voted to allow the bill regardless, determining that it was substantially different to HB113 as it lacks the language on puberty blockers and hormonal treatments.