Florida Governor Ron DeSantis on Wednesday signed into law a bill that bans gender-affirming medical care such as puberty blockers or hormone therapy for transgender youth and also enacts obstacles for adults to access treatment.
Taking effect in the third most populous US state, the law escalates a Republican political strategy to pursue bills restricting transgender rights. More than 500 bills affecting LGBTQ matters have been proposed across the country and at least 48 have been enacted, according to the Human Rights Campaign.
Such bills were once mostly limited to regulating changing rooms and women's sports but have expanded to limiting healthcare access even for transgender adults. In some cases legislation has sought to charge parents and doctors with child abuse if they provide treatment to transgender youth.
"This will permanently outlaw the mutilation of minors," DeSantis said at the bill signing in Tampa.
"I mean they're trying to do sex change operations on minors, giving them puberty blockers and doing things that are irreversible to them...We think this is very wrong."
Florida joins other states in limiting treatment for transgender youth
In addition to Florida, at least 14 other states have banned treatments for transgender youth, although many face legal challenges in the courts.
Many Republican supporters of the bills distrust the prevailing medical consensus, which endorses gender-affirming care and in some cases considers it life-saving. Instead, opponents of transgender healthcare claim it is dangerous and experimental, with some labeling the measures as chemical castration or child abuse.
The Florida law, known as Senate Bill 254, goes further by requiring transgender adults to obtain written consent on a form adopted by the Board of Medicine and Board of Osteopathic Medicine - two oversight boards whose members are appointed by the governor and have already taken steps to restrict transgender care under DeSantis.
In addition, the new Florida law, which takes effect immediately, grants Florida courts jurisdiction in child custody battles over transgender kids when a Florida parent opposes treatment that is being pursued under an out-of-state parent.
DeSantis, who is expected to launch a bid for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination in the coming weeks, has staked part of his political future on cultural issues surrounding LGBTQ rights.
The World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) criticized the bill after it passed the legislature, opposing government interference into the doctor-patient relationship.
"Florida's bill has created a chilling effect on the medical community by inserting politics into health care. This ban threatens health care providers with criminal penalties simply for doing their jobs, and will make it even harder for transgender and gender diverse people to obtain essential health care," Marci Bowers, the association's president, said in a statement.