ATLANTA — Georgia will ban most gender-affirming surgeries and hormone replacement therapies for transgender people under 18 with a new bill signed into law by Gov. Brian Kemp on Thursday.
Lawmakers gave final approval to Senate Bill 140 on Tuesday, despite impassioned pleas from Democrats and LGBTQ advocates against what has become the most fiercely contested bill of Georgia's 2023 legislative session. Kemp signed the bill in private, without the ceremony the governor sometimes uses to celebrate new laws.
"I appreciate the many hours of respectful debate and deliberation by members of the General Assembly that resulted in final passage of this bill," Kemp said in a statement. "As Georgians, parents and elected leaders, it is our highest responsibility to safeguard the bright, promising future of our kids — and SB 140 takes an important step in fulfilling that mission."
It's part of a nationwide effort by conservatives to restrict transgender athletes, gender-affirming care and drag shows. Governors in Mississippi, Utah and South Dakota have signed similar bills.
Opponents say they believe the new law is an unconstitutional infringement on parents' rights. The American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia said it would "use every legal means at our disposal" to stop the law from taking effect, shortly after Kemp signed it. Judges have — at least temporarily — blocked laws limiting gender-affirming treatment of transgender youth in Arkansas and Alabama.
Doctors could still be able to prescribe medicines to block puberty under the Georgia bill, but Republicans say restrictions on other treatments are needed to prevent children from making decisions they will regret later. The law takes effect July 1, and says that minors who are already receiving hormone therapy will be allowed to continue.
But opponents say the measure is founded on disinformation and a desire to open a new front in the culture war to please conservative Republican voters, arguing that it attacks vulnerable children and intrudes on private medical decisions.
The bill was amended to remove a clause that specifically shielded physicians from criminal and civil liability. That change had been pushed for by conservative groups who want people who later regret their treatment to be able to sue their doctor, although it's unclear how large that group might be.
Opponents said the measure will hurt transgender children and require physicians to violate medical standards of care. They also accused Republicans of abandoning previous advocacy of parents' rights to make choices.
Transgender youth and parents heavily lobbied against the bill in recent weeks, warning lawmakers were further marginalizing a group already prone to taking their own lives at disturbingly high rates.
Republicans denied that they wished anyone harm, saying they had the best interest of children at heart and wanted people to be able to obtain counseling.