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Bill that would ban gender-affirming care in Ohio for minors likely on hold until fall

The committee held its 4th hearing on the Enact the Save Adolescents from Experimentation Act Wednesday, hearing from opponents of the bill for the first time.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Nick Lashutka said he wanted to bring some of his clinical leaders to the committee hearing on House Bill 454 to set the record straight.

Lashutka is the president and CEO of the Ohio Children’s Hospital Association, which represents the six children’s hospitals in the state, including Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

“Our members have been subjected to a lot of false information,” he said. “Probably in my 30 years of being in and around Capitol Square, I’ve never had an experience where there’s been more misinformation being alleged about what it is we do in our children’s hospitals, and more importantly, what it is we don’t do.”

A handful of experts spoke, by invitation, at Wednesday’s hearing on the Enact the Save Adolescents from Experimentation (SAFE) Act.

“We do not do gender-affirming surgeries,” he said. “We do provide, in limited circumstances, some puberty-blockers and hormone treatment, but only after a very extensive and comprehensive multi-disciplinary approach, anchored in behavioral and mental health as the foundation of care, that when a family, and a patient presents, oftentimes in crisis, they are subjected to intense counseling before any additional course of action may or may not be recommended for that individual.”

Lashutka also provided some information to accompany his testimony.

Over the last 10 years, Ohio children’s hospitals have improved the care for transgender youth by establishing multidisciplinary. We estimate OCHA member hospitals have seen approximately 3,300 patients in our clinics who were under the age of 18 at their first appointment. All patients receive a comprehensive evaluation and they and their families are supported by mental health specialists. When patients who are diagnosed by their health care providers with gender dysphoria begin puberty, fully reversible medications known as GnRH agonists (commonly called “puberty blockers”) can be used to help the adolescent and family gain time to explore their gender identity. Medical treatment is only prescribed after a comprehensive evaluation and only with parental consent. Only 7% of our minor patients have been prescribed puberty blockers. For older adolescents, hormone treatment can be considered after meeting strict conditions and only with parental consent. The average patient is 16 to 17 years old when starting hormone treatment. This type of treatment is partially reversible as some physical changes may remain after ceasing medication. For example, a deeper voice and facial hair may persist after stopping testosterone. Only 35% of our minor patients have been prescribed hormone treatment. While a minority of youth evaluated in our gender clinics are prescribed puberty blockers or hormone treatment, they are critical resources to patients and their families desperate for care. Our gender clinics practice evidence-based medicine and treat patients consistent with well-established clinical practice guidelines.

Rep. Gary Click, the bill’s sponsor, was not swayed by that information. He insisted to 10TV that gender-affirming surgeries are being done on minor patients in Ohio, citing a printed stack of Facebook posts that appear to have been comments from the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Facebook page.

“My research has been all-inclusive, so nothing today really changed my perspective, no,” Rep. Click said. “This protects children.”

One of the strongest lawmaker opponents of the bill is Rep. Monique Smith. She admits she has been emotional during the hearings for this bill, citing some online harassment.

“Because I simply asked questions about the bill, I was then called someone who is a child abuser, someone who is in favor of child mutilation and someone who is in favor of child sterilization,” she said. “And I was absolutely shocked, absolutely deeply disturbed. I’m a parent. All I want to do in my entire life is protect children, and so, it was a surprise and a shock to be found and identified by really an online mob on Twitter and attacked.”

She also shared that she has been upset with some of the information Rep. Click has shared at previous hearings. At one hearing, for proponents of the bill, representatives from the Alliance Defending Freedom, which has been designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, and the American College of Pediatricians, which the Southern Poverty Law Center describes as a fringe anti-LGBTQ hate group, spoke in support of the bill.

“A good deal of the information that Pastor Click’s supporters have shared is false and misleading, and it’s not based in science or evidence, so it’s not equivalent to what we saw today from healthcare professionals,” she said. “The fact that it’s been moved to the top of the priority list by this legislature when we are having a mental healthcare crisis for children, in general, and that’s not being discussed, to me feels like it is deliberately intended to shame children, and it feels like it’s a way of bullying families who already are dealing with this challenging situation.”

One particular concern raised Wednesday focused on the portion of the bill that would strip Medicaid funding from any facility that continues certain gender-affirming care if the bill were passed.

Rep. Click pointed out that that would only happen to facilities that did not follow the law.

“If House Bill 454 were to pass, there would be limitations presented on counseling of patients, there would be limitations on reimbursement insurance, and there would be a complete stripping away of Medicaid funding if it were to pass,” Lashutka said. “Now, of course, that’s assuming that we did what the bill sponsor alleged that we might do, but those are grave, grave consequences over a bill that we believe is a solution in search of an Ohio problem that does not exist.”

Lawmakers say more hearings on this bill are expected in the fall when the legislature returns from summer break.

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