By EMILY WAGSTER PETTUS and MICHAEL GOLDBERG
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — The Republican-controlled Mississippi Senate gave final approval Tuesday to a bill that would ban gender-affirming care in the state for anyone younger than 18 — part of a broad effort in conservative states to restrict transgender athletes, gender-affirming care and drag shows.
House Bill 1125 will go to Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves, a Republican who is running for reelection and has indicated he will sign it into law. Reeves signed a law in 2021 to ban transgender athletes from competing in girls’ or women’s sports.
The Republican governor of Utah recently signed a ban on gender-affirming care into law, and judges have temporarily blocked similar laws in Arkansas and Alabama. In Arkansas on Tuesday, the state Senate approved legislation that tries to effectively reinstate that state’s ban on gender affirming care for minors by making it easier to sue providers of such medical care.
The vote in the Mississippi Senate came less than a week after transgender teenagers, their families and others who support them protested against the bill.
Jensen Luke Matar, executive director of the Mississippi-based Transgender Resources Advocacy Network and Services Program, denounced the bill in a statement.
“Mississippi lawmakers are insisting that they know what’s best for transgender youth and ignoring the recommendations of every major medical association,” Matar said. “Patients, along with their health care providers — not politicians –- should decide what medical care is in the best interest of a patient. I know from years of working directly with trans youth in Mississippi that they need support, love, and affirmation – not this brazen political attack that cuts off their access to life-saving care.”
Republican Sen. Joey Fillingane of Sumrall said during the Senate debate that he has received questions “about how we’re telling people what they can and can’t do with their bodies.”
“I just want everyone to be very crystal clear: Once you’re 18 if this bill becomes law … this bill would recognize you can have any procedure on your body you want to,” Fillingane said. “So what we’re really talking about here are these procedures for persons 17 years of age and under.”
The Senate rejected an amendment by Democratic Sen. Rod Hickman of Macon, which specified that mental health care would remain available for transgender people younger than 18. Fillingane said the bill would not prohibit such care.
Hickman said transgender people have “elevated” rates of suicide.
“This is not because they have gone through particular surgeries or procedures,” Hickman said. “This is because they live in a society that has continually rejected them.”
Hickman said the bill “furthers the narrative that these individuals are not human beings deserving of the same rights that we all have.”
House Bill 1125 passed the Senate 33-15. It passed Republican-led Mississippi House 78-30 on Jan. 19.
Heritage Action, a national group affiliated with the Heritage Foundation in Washington, praised passage of the bill.
“Dangerous cross-sex hormones and experimental surgeries are not a compassionate solution for children struggling with gender dysphoria,” Heritage Action’s executive director, Jessica Anderson, said in a statement. “These dangerous procedures both fail to address underlying mental health issues and also leave children suffering with irreversible psychological and physical damage for the rest of their lives.”
The ACLU of Mississippi urged Reeves to veto the measure.
“This care was already too difficult to access across the state for transgender people of any age, but this law shuts the door on best-practice medical care and puts politics between parents, their children, and their doctors,” McKenna Raney-Gray, the group’s LGBTQ Justice Project staff attorney, said in a statement.
In Arkansas, the bill approved Tuesday by the majority-Republican Senate on in a party-line vote would allow someone who received gender affirming care as a minor to file malpractice claims for up to 15 years after they turn 18. Under current Arkansas law, medical malpractice claims must be filed within two years of what the law refers to as an “injury.”
Legal experts said the proposal would be a major shift in malpractice law and could make it nearly impossible for doctors who provide gender affirming care to minors to get malpractice insurance. The bill now heads to the majority-Republican Arkansas House.
Associated Press writer Andrew DeMillo contributed to this report from Little Rock, Arkansas.