South Dakota Senate Kills Bill Barring Trans Youth Care

Protestors in front of the South Dakota Capitol last year.
Twitter/ @ACLUSouthDakota

A bill that would have criminalized doctors who provide gender-affirming care for transgender youth in South Dakota has died before reaching the State Senate floor, concluding a controversial legislative push that drew national disgust and a swift call to action by LGBTQ rights advocates.

The Senate Health and Human Services Committee on February 10 voted 5-2 to kill an amended version of the bill less than two weeks after the House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved the legislation by a 56-23 margin. Had it passed the committee, it could have advanced to the State Senate floor for a full vote. Republicans control both houses of the State Legislature and there was wide concern that GOP conservatives would ensure its passage in the upper house.

But advocacy and civil rights organizations — led by the American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota, along with the Human Rights Campaign — aggressively opposed the bill, and they were not alone. The South Dakota Pharmacists Association, the South Dakota Chapter of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the South Dakota Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and the Sioux Falls Area Chamber of Commerce also stood against the legislation, among others.

Republican State Representative Fred Deutsch, who championed the bill in the lower chamber and became an inflammatory voice in support of it, had originally compared gender-affirming care to the Holocaust and said that he did not want children to face “bizarre medical experiments.” But after numerous advocates packed a hearing room ahead of the committee vote on February 10, Deutsch requested that the bill be amended to remove criminal penalties against doctors, according to the Sioux Falls Argus Leader. Instead, he wanted to allow youth who undergo gender reassignment surgery to file lawsuits if they regretted the surgery.

That still wasn’t enough. The seven-member Senate committee — which has one Democrat and six Republicans — went on to reject the legislation.

“Though supporters claimed House Bill 1057 was aimed at protecting vulnerable youth, it was clearly fueled by a fear and misunderstanding of transgender South Dakotans,” Libby Skarin, policy director for the ACLU of South Dakota, said in a written statement. “It’s time we stop these attacks and the very real harm they cause to transgender youth across our state. Let this be a signal to the South Dakota Legislature that discrimination against a marginalized group is a distraction from the needs of the state and hurts us all.”

The ACLU threatened to sue the state if the bill was approved and eventually signed into law, but it was never clear whether Republican Governor Kristi Noem would have been willing to sign it anyway. She expressed hesitancy during a press conference in January, saying she had “concerns” about it.

It was the second time in less than a week that a State Senate committee denied an anti-transgender bill from advancing in South Dakota. The Senate Education Committee also unanimously voted against a bill that would have required school counselors, school psychologists, and social workers to tell parents if a student identifies as transgender or voices feelings of gender dysphoria.