Bills that would ban trans youth care and abortion part of contentious hearings in Ohio House

Credit: Doral Chenoweth

Credit: Doral Chenoweth

In a five-hour hearing Thursday, Ohio legislators debated a bill that would severely restrict minors’ access to gender transition counseling or treatment.

Testimony included representatives of at least two organizations identified as anti-LGBTQ hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Bill co-sponsor state Rep. Gary Click, R-Vickery, retorted by calling the SPLC itself a “hate group.”

House Bill 454, dubbed the “Save Adolescents From Experimentation” Act, was introduced in October by Click and state Rep. Diane Grendell, R-Chesterland. It came up for a supporters-only second hearing Thursday before the House Families, Aging & Human Services Committee.

It would:

· Forbid healthcare workers from providing gender transition assistance to minors.

· Force school personnel to tell parents if a student confides gender dysphoria — even if they know the parent will react with hostility.

· Prohibit insurance from covering gender transition care for minors.

· Ban any public health service from providing that care and stop any public funding of other groups that provide it.

“This is not an anti-LGBTQ bill,” Click said.

He said parents are being “fed false information” about the desire to be of another gender and are “intimidated and manipulated” into agreeing to gender affirming care.

Similar bills are being debated in other states. Matt Sharp, senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom — one of the groups identified by the SPLC — said the bill is “based pretty largely” on a law Arkansas enacted last year.

Several bill proponents asserted that desire for another gender in young people is based on childhood trauma or various mental illnesses and that it often fades in adulthood.

In a long, awkward moment near the end of the hearing, Click asked Corinna Cohn from the Gender Care Consumer Advocacy Network — who identified herself as a transsexual who had gender reassignment surgery — if she was able to have a fulfilling sex life.

Cohn struggled for an answer, finally saying she could not have an orgasm with a sexual partner.

“This is pretty common for males who have been on puberty blockers or cross-sex hormones from a young age,” Cohn said.

Cohn said she was concerned that young people considering gender transition may be receiving an overly optimistic impression of their future sex lives.

“It’s going to be compromised,” she said.

Sharp and others said the response to minors who wish to be another gender should be “watchful waiting,” not gender-affirming counseling or medicinal or surgical intervention, which he described as “dangerous and poorly understood” treatments. Sharp likened gender identity to smoking and driving, saying adolescents aren’t considered mature enough to independently decide on many things.

Daniel Weiss, an endocrinologist from Mentor, alleged that the major professional medical societies are “heavily influenced by activists” and support gender-affirming care for profit.

Maria Polaris of the Cardinal Support Network, described as a parents’ group opposing transition therapy for “gender-confused children,” said young people are being “gaslighted” by therapists into believing they’re transgender.

“I think we all know that nobody is born in the wrong body,” she said.

State Rep. Beth Liston, D-Dublin, asked Polaris if she believed that transgender people actually exist. Polaris didn’t answer yes or no, saying that trans identity was a “horrible, negative label” to put on children.

Several times in the hearing, Democrats complained that bill proponents quickly and directly answered friendly Republican questions but replied to Democratic questions with long evasions.

Helena Kerschner described herself as a “detransitioned woman.” Now 23, she said she identified as trans for about five years. Due to parental opposition she did not begin transition therapy and testosterone until she turned 18.

Kerschner said as an adolescent she was socially isolated and struggled with mental health, and online discussions convinced her she was transgender. But gender-affirming care “greatly exacerbated” her problems, and high doses of testosterone caused her more medical issues, so she stopped.

Now Kerschner blames “sociological theory of gender identity” for exacerbating her mental and social difficulties.

State Rep. Monique Smith, D-Fairview Park, asked several proponents if they would oppose the requirement for school personnel to tell parents about a student’s desire to be another gender, noting that some parents would react by abusing children or throwing them out of the house.

Most of the speakers supporting the bill said they would still support that mandate.

Abortion ban

In a shorter but no less contentious hearing, the House Government Oversight Committee heard from supporters of a “trigger ban” that would outlaw abortion in Ohio if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade.

Testimony Thursday came only from invited proponents, a list that included anti-abortion and religious groups. Opponents generally testify at the third hearing of a bill. Committee Chair Shane Wilkin, R-Hillsboro, said he and the committee’s ranking member, state Rep. Richard Brown, D-Canal Winchester, had agreed to limit spoken testimony to 10 proponents and 10 opponents.

House Bill 598 is sponsored by state Rep. Jean Schmidt, R-Miami Twp. The bill would make it a felony for doctors to perform abortions. It does not include exceptions for rape, incest or the mother’s health.

Instead the bill would allow doctors who perform abortions to prevent the mother’s death or serious harm to mount an “affirmative defense” — contingent on written certification from another doctor that abortion was necessary, on efforts to keep the fetus alive and other factors.

During Thursday’s hearing, state Rep. D.J. Swearingen, R-Huron, amended the bill to add ectopic pregnancies — those in which a fertilized egg grows outside the main cavity of the uterus — to the list of affirmative defenses.

House Bill 598 would make “promoting abortion” a first-degree misdemeanor, “abortion manslaughter” a first-degree felony punishable by four to 25 years in prison and a $10,000 fine and “criminal abortion” a fourth-degree felony drawing six months to two years in jail and a fine up to $2,500. Doctors would also be open to wrongful-death lawsuits and medical license revocation.

Mary Parker, director of legislative affairs for Ohio Right to Life, said HB 598 would “end abortion in the state of Ohio,” but wouldn’t ban emergency contraceptives or emergency abortion-causing drugs.

“These (standards) are in keeping with the pre-Roe penalties in Ohio,” she said.

Parker said similar trigger bans have already been enacted in 13 states, while six more have pre-Roe bans still in place.

Rep. Brown asked another bill supporter, Right to Life of Northeast of Ohio Executive Director Allie Frazier, if she objected to the lack of exceptions for rape or incest.

“Two lefts don’t make a right,” Frazier said. “Abortion merely creates a new victim.”

Denise Leipold, a board member of Ohio Right to Life and Right to Life of Northeast Ohio, told legislators she was “part of the team that originated this legislation.”

Democratic committee members complained several times that proponents gave quick, direct answers to friendly Republican questions, but replied to Democrats with long evasions.

Partly in reaction to Schmidt’s bill, Democratic legislators announced Tuesday they will seek a state constitutional amendment to permanently legalize abortion in Ohio. They acknowledged it’s improbable that the amendment would get the needed three-fifths support in the Republican-dominated General Assembly, but framed it as “step one” toward a statewide referendum.

Another motivating factor is the leaked draft majority opinion from the U.S. Supreme Court, indicating the conservative majority may soon overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that legalized abortion nationwide. The court’s final ruling is expected in June.

Ohio Republican leaders signaled they may wait until the final Supreme Court decision to push ahead with the trigger ban. Since that court decision is expected sometime in June, it would likely punt Schmidt’s bill until the General Assembly reconvenes in the fall.

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