Mar 02, 2024

Critics of Kan. bills blocking transgender medical care to minors tossed from House hearing

Posted Mar 02, 2024 3:00 PM
 Rep. Brenda Landwehr, R-Wichita, threw several people opposed to anti-transgender bills out of a Kansas House hearing Thursday for defying ground rules for decorum. The offenses ranged from holding a protest sign to testimony declaring legislators supporting health restrictions on transgender youth would have blood on their hands when teens died. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)
Rep. Brenda Landwehr, R-Wichita, threw several people opposed to anti-transgender bills out of a Kansas House hearing Thursday for defying ground rules for decorum. The offenses ranged from holding a protest sign to testimony declaring legislators supporting health restrictions on transgender youth would have blood on their hands when teens died. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

Doctor, politicians defend legislation viewed as a shield against child abuse

BY: TIM CARPENTERKansas Reflector

TOPEKA — Kansas House Rep. Brenda Landwehr kicked the first person out of Thursday’s hearing on anti-transgender legislation for cradling a protest sign in the room.

Landwehr, a Wichita Republican and chair of the House Health and Human Services Committee, bounced someone from the second row about 45 minutes later during questioning of proponents of legislation sharply restricting access by minors to gender-affirming medical care.

At the outset, she had warned the standing-room-only crowd that outbursts of any kind would be unacceptable and offenders would be asked to leave or be escorted out by uniformed officers of the Capitol Police.

“I said no talking, no disruption, and I meant it,” Landwehr said. “I think I was pretty plain.”

During questioning of a teacher opposed to intrusion of legislators into personal lives of school children, Landwehr warned the witness not to speak over her because “if you’re talking, you’re not listening.” Near conclusion of the day’s proceedings, Landwehr slapped her gavel to declare Lawrence transgender activist Iridescent Riffel out of order for asserting a vote in favor of anti-transgender bills meant the blood of children would “be on your hands.”

Landwehr didn’t hesitate to issue the expulsion order: “Please leave the room or we will escort you out.”

Mingled with those moments during the 100-minute hearing were insights from proponents and opponents of House legislation designed to curtail access by under-18 Kansans to transgender health services and medical interventions. The committee didn’t take action on the two bills subject to the House hearing.

companion hearing on transgender legislation was conducted Thursday in the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee. Eudora Republican Sen. Beverly Gossage, who serves as chair of the committee, said her desire was to “protect the children” in Kansas from medical professionals extending gender-affirming care to people under 18. Access to treatment, even if supported by parents, should be denied until the patient was an adult, she said.

Unjustifiable ‘harm’

Retired Nebraska physician Ivan Abdouch treated transgender individuals from Midwest states for 30 years. He said he typically didn’t appreciate government regulation of medicine, but intervention was required to protect young Kansans from gender-affirming care.

He urged the House committee to get behind legislation that would deny gender-affirming medical care for anyone under 18. House Bill 2791 would characterize treatment of minor patients whose gender identity was inconsistent with sex at birth as a form of child abuse. It would authorize lawsuits against doctors or nurses who violated the proposed statute, which must still run the gauntlet in the House and Senate and deal with a likely veto by Gov. Laura Kelly.

“How can we determine with certainty the gender trajectory of a child or adolescent for their lifetime? We can’t. No one can,”‘ Abdouch said. “What are potential consequences of erroneous medical or surgical treatment? Unjustifiable, irreversible harm with lifelong effects.”

To the contrary, Wichita marriage and family therapist Asher Wickell said he was alarmed by consideration of a bill denying health care to minors. He said it was an outrage to stop state-funded insurance from covering such care and to set the stage for medical providers to be sued for caring for all their patients. He said the legislation conflicted with standards and recommendations of major medical and mental health professional associations.

“Its sweeping, intrusive demands are reckless and dangerous in their disregard for the safety and well-being of Kansas’ children and families,” Wickell said. “Simultaneously, the bill creates unresolvable legal and ethical dilemmas for mental health providers, threatening to exacerbate the profound mental health shortfalls already impacting our state.”

Texas doctor, Kansas bill

The majority of people offering testimony to the House committee on HB 2791 were opposed to the legislation introduced by Rep. Ron Bryce, a Coffeyville Republican and physician licensed to practice medicine in Texas but not in Kansas.

Bryce, who compared transgender surgery to the practice of treating depression by performing a lobotomy, told the House committee it was imperative the state forbid tax dollars from be used for “futile and unsafe gender-transition of children.” He said it was important state statute prohibit health professionals from advocating medical or surgical transitioning of a child at facilities receiving state support for treatment of psychological disorders.

He said Kansas should “move forward with what other civilized western cultures are doing” and forbid psychological treatment with “disturbing side effects” or medical intervention leaving individuals “barren or with permanently disfigured genitalia.”

Kansas Catholic Conference policy specialist Lucrecia Nold, speaking on behalf of Catholic bishops in Kansas, said the act of manipulating distinctions between men and women interfered with God’s will. Christians find identity in God through Scripture and tradition, she said. She said “divine gifts” of differences between males and females had to be nurtured in children and not subjected to assaults by those touting gender ideology.

“Allowing a person, especially a child, to participate in gender reassignment surgery or gender altering medication would be a disserve to them,” Nold said.

Walk in my shoes

Jaelynn Abegg, a transgender woman from Wichita, and Anthony Alvarez, a 19-year-old transgender man and honor student at the University of Kansas, opposed the bill. Both urged legislators to consider benefits of gender-affirming care for the estimated 2,100 transgender children aged 13 to 17 in Kansas.

Their testimony made clear young Kansans would suffer or thrive based on decisions on a bill undermining the right of patients to make their own medical choices. Under the House measure, state lawmakers would weaken the concept of informed consent  — an essential part of health care decisions that should be in the hands of patients, parents or guardians and physicians.

“Bills like HB 2791 clearly communicate this committee’s message that transgender people are not welcome here,” Abegg said. “As anti-trans bill after anti-trans bill works its way through the Legislature and to the governor’s desk, Kansas has earned a negative, high-risk or unsafe rating for gender identity policy.”

Alvarez, who has lived in Kansas for a decade, said he struggled as a child with intense anger and depression. He said that at age 15 he was was able to put a name — transgender — to discomfort that overshadowed his life. His parents were skeptical and felt out of their depth, he said. They all sought guidance from medical professionals, Alvarez said. That guidance led at age 16 to his transition as a minor in the state of Kansas.

“I was fortunate to have open-minded parents and an accepting school surrounding me when I began this process and, since then, I have grown into a young man my parents and I are proud of,” Alvarez said. “It pains me to think that the support systems that made me who I am today could be denied to other young Kansans by bills like this one. I used to believe that I would never be happy, but now I wake up every day excited and can see my future clearly — a future I hope is in the state of Kansas.”

The ACLU of Kansas raised questions about the bill’s potential violation of the Kansas Constitution, particularly the state Bill of Rights’ provision on bodily autonomy relied upon by the Kansas Supreme Court to affirm constitutional protection of abortion rights in Kansas.

No minor surgery

Landwehr, the chairwoman of the House health committee, included in the Thursday agenda a brief hearing on a separate bill that would prohibit gender transition surgery for minors in Kansas.

Landwehr, who introduced House Bill 2792, said Kansas should make violation of the proposed ban of transgender surgery on minors an ethics infraction under the Kansas Board of Healing Arts, which could place professional licenses in jeopardy.

Her bill would require transgender care services and treatments in Kansas be conducted according to clinical practice guidelines specified in Wylie Hembree, a physician who died in 2022 after authoring the guide on gender care.

Kristen Satterwhite, an Overland Park mother of a 15-year-old transgender boy, said her son came out as transgender at 13. She opposed legislation forbidding gender transition surgery on minors because those decisions should be made by professionals in the field and the family involved.

“No one else,” she said. “I honestly resent that I had to take time away from my family and my responsibilities today to share my child’s private medical history with all of you, but I am very concerned that this bill will disrupt the care that we have worked so hard to secure.”

The state of Kansas had no business mandating transgender care follow guidelines published in 2017 and making it illegal for physicians to provide patients the most up-to-date care available, she said.