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Shield law to protect transgender care proposed in Maine

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(The Center Square) – Protecting doctors performing “gender affirming” health care procedures from lawsuits is in a Maine proposal known as a “shield law.”

Critics of the plan from Maine lawmakers say parental rights would be stripped.

The proposal, which is pending before the Legislature’s Committee on Health Coverage, Insurance and Financial Services, seeks to protect patients and health care providers in Maine who perform transgender care, abortions or provide in-vitro fertilization, procedures that are illegal in some other states.

The measure’s primary sponsor, state Rep. Anne Perry, D-Calais, said the protections are needed to shield patients and medical professionals who perform gender-affirming and other reproductive care from prosecution by other states.

“We have Mainers and patients who come to Maine in need of reproductive health care or gender-affirming care, and as a Legislature, we cannot ignore this,” Perry said in testimony on Tuesday. “During a time when we are seeing an increase in restrictions on abortion and gender-affirming care across the country, Maine needs to be a leader and defend our patients and providers.”

House Minority Leader Billy Bob Faulkingham called the proposal “vile” and said it ignores a “plethora of extremely dangerous problems” with the legislation.

“Pump the brakes,” the Winter Harbor Republican said in testimony. “We are talking about children getting transgender transition treatment and surgeries. We cannot ignore the reality that these treatments and surgeries are irreversible. They have lifelong consequences on these young people’s reproductive function as well as their general health.”

Groups backing the proposal say the protections are needed with states like Alabama pledging to prosecute physicians in Maine and other states that perform transgender care for their residents.

“To ensure equal access to treatment for all transgender youth, we must eliminate barriers to gender-affirming care, such as financial burdens, insurance coverage, and geographical limitations,” Chris McLaughlin, executive director of the Maine Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, said in Tuesday’s testimony.

“These barriers not only harm individuals seeking care, but also perpetuate harmful stereotypes and discrimination against the transgender community as a whole,” he said.

But dozens of Mainers testified in opposition to the proposal, many of them saying the legislation would trample on parental rights while raising myriad legal, moral and ethical concerns.

“The medical treatments referenced in this bill are so complex and life altering that allowing such to happen without proper consent, involvement of parents and having a support system in place will further place our younger and most vulnerable kids at extreme risk,” Peter Bragdon, a registered nurse from West Gardiner, told the panel during Tuesday’s hearing.

Last year, Gov. Janet Mills signed into law a “first of its kind in the nation” bill allowing access to gender-affirming care without parental consent or notification for 16- and 17-year-olds.

Earlier this year, lawmakers considered a proposal that would have prohibited Maine from cooperating with law enforcement from states that have banned gender-affirming care who are investigating people who seek treatment in Maine. But the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee rejected the bill, with Republicans and a handful of Democrats voting not to advance the plan.

The plan was panned by conservative blogs for promoting “trans tourism” and fueling culture wars by defying parents who objected to their children getting the procedure done.

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