Tennessee GOP senators OK criminalizing helping minors get transgender care, mimicking abortion bill


NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee lawmakers are considering criminalizing adults who help minors receive gender-affirming care without parental consent, a proposal advancing in one of the most eager states to enact policies aimed at the LGBTQ+ community.

Republican senators advanced the legislation Thursday on a 25-4 vote. It must now clear the similarly GOP-dominated House.

The bill mirrors almost the same language from a so-called “anti-abortion trafficking” proposal that the Senate approved just a day prior. In that version, supporters are hoping to stop adults from helping young people obtain abortions without permission from their parents or guardians.

Both bills could be applied broadly. Critics have pointed out that violations could range from talking to an adolescent about a website on where to find care to helping that young person travel to another state with looser restrictions on gender-affirming care services.

“We’ve had two bills in two days regulate the types of conversations people can have with each other,” said Democratic state Sen. Jeff Yarbro. “We shouldn’t be trying to violate constitutional rights and that’s what this is trying to do.”

The Republican sponsor, state Sen. Janice Bowling, largely refrained from debating the bill and instead read portions of the proposed statute and summary when asked questions by Democrats.

So far, Idaho is the only state in the U.S. that has enacted legislation criminalizing adults who help minors get an abortion without getting parental approval first. That law is temporarily blocked amid a federal legal challenge.

Meanwhile, no state has yet placed restrictions on helping young people receive gender-affirming care, despite the recent push among Republican-led states — which includes Tennessee — to ban such care for most minors.

Instead, some Democratically-led states have been pushing to shield health care providers if they provide health care services that are banned in a patient’s home state.

Most recently, Maine attracted criticism from a group of 16 state attorneys general, led by Jonathan Skrmetti of Tennessee, over its proposed shield law.

According to the bill, providers would be shielded from “hostile” lawsuits.

The attorneys general described the proposal as “constitutionally defective” and have vowed to “vigorously avail ourselves of every recourse our Constitution provides” in a letter sent to Democrat Janet Mills, and other legislative leaders.

“Maine has every right to decide what Maine’s laws are and how those laws should be enforced. But that same right applies to every state. One state cannot control another. The totalitarian impulse to stifle dissent and oppress dissenters has no place in our shared America,” the attorneys general wrote in March.

Maine’s attorney general, Aaron Frey, responded to Skrmetti in a letter of his own that the claims are “meritless.” He wrote that 17 states and Washington, D.C., have already enacted similar shield laws.

“Unfortunately, shield laws have become necessary due to efforts in some objecting states to punish beyond their borders lawful behavior that occurs in Maine and other states,” Frey wrote.

The proposal that advanced in Tennessee on Thursday is just one of several the Volunteer State has endorsed that targets LGBTQ+ people.

For example, House lawmakers cast a final vote Thursday to send Gov. Bill Lee a bill to ban spending state money on hormone therapy or sex reassignment procedures for inmates — though it would not apply to state inmates currently receiving hormone therapy.

The bill sponsor, Republican Rep. John Ragan, said some 89 inmates are receiving such treatment.

Previously, Tennessee Republicans have attempted to limit events where certain drag performers may appear, and allow, but not require, LGBTQ+ children to be placed with families that hold anti-LGBTQ+ beliefs.

In schools, they already have approved legal protections for teachers who do not use a transgender student’s preferred pronoun, restricted transgender athletes, limited transgender students’ use of bathrooms aligning with their gender identity and allowed parents to opt students out of classroom conversations about gender and sexuality.

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Associated Press writers Jonathan Mattise in Nashville, Tennessee and Patrick Whittle in Portland, Maine contributed to this report.



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