California Lawmakers Kill Ban on ‘Intersex’ Surgery for Young Children

child sex change
AP Photo/Rick Bowmer

Lawmakers in California have killed a bill that would ban most surgeries on “intersex” infants and young children – those born with ambiguous sex characteristics.

The measure would have prohibited surgeries on children, aged six and under, born with sex characteristics that cannot easily be categorized as “male” or “female,” unless the Medical Board of California determined they were medically necessary.

A majority of state lawmakers – three Democrats and one Republican on the state Senate Business, Professions and Economic Development Committee, voted to reject the bill, proposed by Democrat State Sen. Scott Wiener, that would have banned most of the intersex procedures, reported the Associated Press (AP).

Wiener claimed the bill addresses a civil rights issue and seeks to “ensure that people who are born intersex are able to make their own choices about their health and their gender identity instead of having other people make those irreversible surgical choices for them.”

However, as AP reported, a majority of committee members considered the measure’s definition of “intersex” to be overly broad.

The committee heard the testimony of Dr. Hillary Copp, a pediatric urologist at the University of California, San Francisco, who said she opposed the bill because it would remove “all flexibility for trained medical professionals and their [sic] loved ones to do what is in the best interest of the patient.”

“We’re not trying to perform sex assignment surgery,” Copp noted. “In fact, we don’t even assign genders. We talk about the baby. This is such a complex issue. Of course, we want to get it right.”

The committee voted to reject the legislation following a public hearing that featured testimony on both sides of the issue.

Democrat State Sen. Jerry Hill expressed concern about limiting intersex surgeries until a child is six years old.

“I look at my granddaughter who is five, almost six,” he said. “I don’t know if that’s something that she could make that decision on.”

Wiener insisted that, while parents would make the final decision, they should delay that decision until the child can talk and express his or her desires.

“These are kids who are told from a young age that there is something wrong with them,” he said, reported AP. “There is nothing wrong with them, there is nothing to be fixed about them, and they deserve the basic human dignity of being able to make decisions about their own bodies.”

The California Medical Association opposes Wiener’s legislation.

In November, a bill that would ban “medically unnecessary” surgeries on intersex children prior to their ability to provide informed consent was announced by New York State Sen. Brad Hoylman, a Democrat.

The measure sought to “protect intersex children from medical intervention and allow them to make these decisions for themselves when they are prepared to do so,” Hoylman said, according to CNN.

Hoylman added:

These individuals should have autonomy over their bodies. But under the current legal construct, intersex people, as infants or children, can be forced to undergo irreversible surgeries that can cause physical pain and emotional distress later in their lives.

Kimberly Zieselman, who identifies as “intersex” and is the executive director of interACT, an intersex advocacy group, supports legislation to ban such surgeries which, she says, reflect an “anti-LGBTQ bias.”

“Genital normalizing surgeries such as clitoral ‘reductions’ and vaginoplasties instill deep shame and sexual trauma in young children when they cannot make a decision for themselves,” Zieselman said. “That these abuses of intersex youth continue after decades of advocacy proves the intensity of the shame and anti-LGBTQ bias at play.”


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