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Gender-affirming medical care for transgender youth limited by Oklahoma Legislature in ARPA health funding bill

Mairead Todd
OU Children's Hospital in Oklahoma City, Okla.

Oklahoma lawmakers held one day of votes in their special session this week. They approved nearly $2 billion dollars on broadband Internet and emergency drought relief for farmers.

During that time, they also used one health funding bill to crack down on gender-affirming care, drawing criticism from the medical community, LGBTQ advocates and civil rights supporters.

House Bill 1007 and Senate Bill 3 did the same thing — passed American Rescue Plan funding to major health initiatives at university hospitals. That included nearly $40 million for Oklahoma Children’s Hospital to build a new behavioral health facility.

That measure had a stipulation on the funding: it can’t be used for gender-affirming care for minors.

OU Health officials said the money wasn’t intended for that use, but they are still canceling several services.

The policy drew significant criticism. For one, Senator George Young said, it came during a short special session. The bill was only made public this week.

"Normally, during the regular session, you have time to go through committee before it comes to the floor, and you can talk about policy then," said Young, a Democrat from Oklahoma City. "I’ve had a few days!"

During Thursday’s hearings, critics noted that the measures’ supporters didn’t understand basic principles of the care they were blocking for Oklahoma children. For example, supporters often focused only on gender-affirmation surgery, which is very rarely conducted on anyone under 18. They also called the care irreversible, but most medications for trans youth are reversible. Many of those supporters falsely claimed children were being sexually mutilated, a talking point common on right-wing media.

The Oklahoma State Medical Association, which represents doctors, immediately issued a statement. In part, it reads: "It’s disturbing that some legislators have chosen to hijack what should be a straightforward special session focused on COVID relief funding to advance a political agenda."

Catherine Sweeney reports for StateImpact Oklahoma, focusing on health.
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