The other would restrict which bathrooms and changing rooms trans children can use and ban educators from talking about gender or sexuality in kindergarten through fifth grade.
Both bills are now awaiting the signature of Gov. Kay Ivey (R), who is expected to approve them.
The education bill came as a shock to Democrats and trans rights advocates. The original version, which the House passed in February, prohibited trans children from using restrooms and locker rooms that match their gender identity from kindergarten through high school.
But on Thursday morning, GOP state senators added a surprise amendment mirroring what critics are calling Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill. The Senate passed the bill, which was returned to the House for approval late Thursday afternoon.
The bills come as a number of states have proposed and enacted an unprecedented wave of bills targeting the rights of LGBTQ people. Much of the legislation has focused on transgender children.
Last week, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (right) signed his state’s bill into law limiting discussion of gender identity and sexual orientation for young college students; In Arizona, Governor Doug Ducey (right) signed two bills that would restrict gender-affirming care for transgender youth and ban them from playing sports for girls.
Both Alabama bills passed by substantial majorities in the state legislature.
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Doctors and trans rights advocates have said that simply passing the bills could endanger the lives of trans minors, even if they are blocked by the courts.
“The Alabama Legislature will have blood on their hands.“, noted Kaitlin Welborn, reproductive rights attorney for the Alabama Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.
Welborn cited reports that teen suicides rose after similar health care bills were passed, including one signed into law and then blocked by an Arkansas judge last year.
Organizations are already acting to block Alabama’s bill. The American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Alabama, Lambda Legal, Transgender Law Center, and law firm Cooley LLP announced Thursday — hours before the bill passed — that they plan to sue the State. Another coalition of organizations, including the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Human Rights Campaign, announced they would also challenge the health care bill, if Ivey signed it.
Of the two pieces of legislation, the health care bill, also known as SB 184, received the most attention during this year’s legislative session. This would prevent trans youth aged 18 and under from accessing gender-affirming medical care, falsely claiming that such treatments are “experimental”.
Parents and healthcare professionals who provide gender transition care to children could be charged with a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison and/or a fine of up to $15,000.
The list of prohibited treatments includes puberty blockers and hormone therapy, as well as surgery. Alabama doctors say gender-affirming surgeries are not performed on minors in the state.
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State lawmakers have been trying to pass the health care bill for the past three years. Although it passed the state Senate, the House had never voted on the measure until Thursday.
Proponents of SB 184, the Vulnerable Child Compassion and Protection Act, said the bill’s purpose is to protect minors from making medical decisions they may later regret.
State Rep. Wes Allen (R), one of its co-sponsors, likened the bill to laws that prohibit minors from vaping.
“We pass bills from time to time to protect minors from vaping, drinking alcohol, because these minors aren’t ready to make those long-term decisions,” he said.
Allen repeated the comparison Thursday on the House floor: “Their brains aren’t developed to make long-term decisions about what these drugs and surgeries are doing to their bodies,” he said.
The conservative, who is running for Alabama’s secretary of state, did not respond to questions from state Democrats as they tried to challenge him on the claims on Thursday.
“You say it’s about children. It is not,” said Rep. Chris England, who also chairs the state Democratic Party. “It’s about scoring political points and using these children as collateral damage.”
England noted that minors cannot make these healthcare decisions themselves, but need the support of their parents and healthcare providers.
The Alabama Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Alabama State Medical Association oppose the legislation.
According to Alabama.com, the health care bill was a last-minute addition to Thursday’s session, made at the request of Republican senators.
Democratic lawmakers and trans rights advocates have also been surprised by last-minute changes to the bathroom bill, which now includes a provision that mirrors Florida’s controversial education bill. Florida law prohibits educators from talking about sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through third grade.
But the Alabama bill goes even further, banning such “instruction” until sixth grade. It also requires school staff to alert parents if a child tells them they are transgender.
Morissa Ladinsky, associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and co-lead of UAB Pediatrics’ gender health team, said she is one of a handful of physicians who provide gender-affirming care for minors in the state.
The health care bill is riddled with misinformation and essentially asks lawmakers to serve as doctors, she said: ‘We have lost our sense of what the science is, the facts and the reality .”
Gender-affirming care “isn’t just about writing prescriptions,” Ladinsky explained: It’s about providing non-judgmental care and helping to meet the needs of trans children and their families. Ladinsky will typically work with young patients for one to three years before starting puberty blockers or hormone therapy, a decision that is made with a team of doctors as well as the child’s family, she said.
Without access to gender-affirming care, trans children are at higher risk for severe gender dysphoria, which could trigger anxiety, depression, and suicidal tendencies.
Passing the health care bill “will decimate the hope of so many,” said Ladinsky, who said she fears for trans children she “may never meet.”
Jeff Walker, a 46-year-old IT executive whose daughter is trans, said he hadn’t slept well Wednesday night after learning the two bills would be on the agenda of state lawmakers. .
During Thursday’s proceedings, Walker watched live feeds of the sessions in both chambers, alternating between video feeds.
With the passage of the two bills, Walker said he and his family now face the kind of tough decisions faced by families of trans children in other parts of the country: what mean for their family? Are they staying in Alabama, the only home her daughter knows?
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While legislation targeting trans children has forced some parents, who previously expressed support for their children, to shut up, Walker plans to continue speaking out publicly.
“It’s important to put a real face and name to this,” he said.
Walker and her daughter were at the White House last week to talk about the surge in anti-trans legislation. And his daughter’s spring break was spent in Montgomery, the state capital, “talking to anyone who wanted to hear about it,” he said.
“We are just an ordinary family living on the streets. We go on vacation, we go out to dinner and we sit and watch movies on TV together, like normal families do,” Walker said. “We would like all of that to go away and we could just be who we are.”
Welborn, of the Alabama ACLU, doubts the ban on gender-affirming health care will go into effect; with the promised legal challenges, there will likely be an injunction, which would put any enforcement of it on hold.
Alabama could also face challenges from the Biden administration.
The White House has made it clear that it believes these types of bills violate federal law and the Constitution. The Justice Department issued guidelines last week “reminding” state attorneys general of their duty to protect trans youth from discrimination, including when seeking gender-affirming care.
Federal officials also said they consider transgender students protected under Title IX, which prohibits discrimination in education based on sex and gender.
Alabama should expect to lose federal funding, Welborn said, and could also spend millions defending its laws in court.
Ladinsky, the doctor, said she felt “sick” knowing the bills could become laws.
“What you saw in this room is called Alabama political hardball,” she said, adding that it was “painful” to see trans kids “armed and turned into political football for the legislators” this session.
As Ivey’s signing of the law looms, Ladinsky has a message for his trans patients: “We turn our backs on them and we will never turn our backs on them.”