Amid Extensive Opposition, Bill to Ban Gender-Affirming Care for Minors Passes Second Reading in Montana House

Senate Bill 99, introduced by Kalispell Sen. John Fuller, will head to a third reading on a near party-line vote

By Denali Sagner
Scenes from the 64th Montana Legislative Session in Helena on April 23, 2015. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

Senate Bill 99, a bill brought by Sen. John Fuller, R-Kalispell, that would ban gender-affirming healthcare for minors, passed a second reading in the Montana House today on a near party-line vote. Throughout the House floor session, legislators echoed themes that have dominated multiple lengthy and contentious public hearings on the bill, including the doctor-patient relationship, privacy concerns and LGBTQ rights. Only three Republicans — Rep. Greg Frazer of Deer Lodge, Rep. Mike Hopkins of Missoula and Rep. Rom Welch of Dillon — joined House Democrats to vote against the bill. Senate Bill 99 will face a third reading on the House Floor in the coming days before it is sent to the governor’s desk.

During the second hearing on Senate Bill 99, Republican legislators described a pattern of young and confused children feeling pressured into a gender transition by educators, activists, social media personalities and parents, and subsequently receiving life-altering surgical procedures with ease, a characterization of gender-affirming healthcare that was refuted by medical professionals during multiple prior hearings on the bill.

“I was growing up just a few years ago in our public schools, and we’ve never seen anything like this happen,” Rep. Braxton Mitchell, R-Columbia Falls, said, speaking on the House floor. Mitchell described children following a trend to become transgender that is “being pushed by left-wing activists, children’s book authors,” adding that “We weren’t seeing this five, ten, twenty years ago.”

Rep. Terry Falk, R-Kalispell, said that children are “being encouraged to change their sex through chemical or surgical alteration.”

“Gender confusion is confusion,” Falk added.

 While multiple legislators testified about protecting children from making rash decisions that lead them to life-altering surgeries, healthcare providers during previous hearings emphasized that in order to obtain gender-affirming medical treatment, minors are required to obtain parental consent and to meet with various doctors.

Lauren Wilson, a pediatric hospitalist and the president of the Montana chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, told lawmakers in a Jan. 27 hearing on Senate Bill 99 that in order for children to be able to learn about medical therapy options, they must express an “insistent, consistent and persistent” desire to undergo a gender transition.

Kathryn Lowe, a pediatrician at Bozeman Health, told the House Judiciary Committee on March 20 that no medical treatment is given to transgender children prior to puberty, parental consent is always required for gender-affirming procedures and that puberty blockers are “safe, effective” and “fully-reversible” medications.

Democratic representatives during the bill’s second reading implored their colleagues to vote against the bill, citing privacy concerns, LGBTQ civil rights and the relationship between doctors and their patients.

“The truth is that kids who are not trans can and do access the healthcare that is defined in this bill all the time,” Rep. SJ Howell, D-Missoula, said, noting that cisgender minors will still be allowed to receive hormone therapy, puberty blockers and surgeries such as breast reductions if this legislation were to pass, procedures that would be banned for transgender minors.

Rep. Donavon Hawk, D-Butte, assailed the legislative body for what he described as a failure to address issues most pertinent to the health and safety of Montanans.

“We have obsessed about transitioning, the transgender community,” Hawk said.

“You want to protect children? Fund healthcare. Fund mental health services,” the legislator added, asking the House to address critical services “that are falling apart in this state,” rather than focusing on measures such as Senate Bill 99.

Rep. Zooey Zephyr, D-Missoula, the first openly transgender woman in the Montana Legislature, addressed transgender Montanans, saying, “Please, to my trans siblings, stay alive. Lean on your community.”

“We heard comments about an explosion of people being trans. I’m trans. Here’s another thing about me, I’m left handed,” Zephyr added, referencing the historical growth in left-handedness after Americans stopped retraining left-handed children to use their right hand. “The reason? We stopped beating children.”

The bill passed a second reading with 65 votes in favor and 35 votes against, a notable shift in the Legislature after a similar bill died in the Senate in 2021.

If it passes a third reading, the bill will head to the desk of Gov. Greg Gianforte.