Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt signed a bill Tuesday that will withhold Covid relief funds from one of the state’s largest hospital systems unless it stops providing gender-affirming medical care to minors.
The bill signed by the first-term Republican, who is up for re-election next month, authorizes more than $108 million in federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act for health services at the University of Oklahoma Medical Center.
But the health system can only receive the funds if it ceases all gender-affirming medical care on those under 18. Oklahoma Children’s Hospital at OU Health currently offers medical services related to gender identity for those up to age 24, including puberty blockers, gender- affirming hormone therapy, and help finding surgeons who perform gender-affirming surgeries, according to its website.
Stitt also called for the GOP-controlled Legislature to ban some of those gender-affirming treatments statewide when he returns in February, saying in a statement that he wanted a prohibition on “all irreversible gender transition surgeries and hormone therapies” on minors.
transgender medical treatment for children and teens is increasingly under attack in many Republican-led states, labeled as child abuse and subject to criminalizing bans. But it has been available in the United States for more than a decade and is endorsed by major medical associations.
Oklahoma’s action comes amid a spate of threats against doctors and institutions that provide medical care for transgender kids, with children’s hospitals nationwide increasing security and working with law enforcement.
OU’s Medical Center said in light of the legislation signed by Stitt, it had ceased hormone-related prescription therapies and surgical procedures for gender-affirming services on patients under 18 years old.
“The OU Health Senior Leadership Team is proactively planning the ceasing of certain gender medicine services across our facilities and that plan is already under development,” the hospital system said in a statement to news outlets.
State Sen. Carri Hicks, a Democrat, said last week that about 100 children receive gender-affirming care at OU Children’s, according to The Oklahoman.
Parents of those children now might have to travel to Kansas or Colorado to find care, the Washington Post reported.
Shane Poindexter said that his 14-year-old attempted suicide before going to the OU Children’s clinic, where he’s been receiving treatment, including hormone suppressants, for more than a year.
“It is someplace they can go and be who they are and be accepted. Kids are bullies,” Poindexter told the Washington Post. “He was mentally destroying him. The love and affection from that place is amazing. We don’t know what we are going to do now.”
Civil rights groups denounced the governor and Legislature for the new law.
“Medical decisions belong to patients, their parents, and their doctors,” Tamya Cox-Toure, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma, said in a statement. “Yet politicians, attempting to appeal to their base during an election year, have continued their attacks on bodily autonomy by coming between those directly impacted and the care they need and deserve.”
Oklahoma could face a lawsuit over the bill. Federal and some state laws bar federally funded health programs from discriminating on the basis of sex. As a result, the ACLU and other groups have successfully argued in short that state Medicaid policies, for example, cannot bar coverage for gender-affirming care for transgender people if they provide those same treatments — hormone therapy, puberty blockers and double mastectomies, among others — to cisgender people to treat other conditions.
Oklahoma’s Legislature already targeted transgender young people earlier this year with new laws that restrict their ability to play sports or use school bathrooms consistent with their gender identity.