February 21, 2024

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Republican Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine vetoed a measure Friday that would have banned gender-affirming care for minors, casting the action out of step with many in his own party as thoughtful, limited and “pro-life.”

He simultaneously announced plans to move to administratively ban transgender surgeries until a person is 18, and to position the state to better regulate and track gender-affirming treatments in both children and adults.

At a news conference, DeWine said he hoped the hybrid approach could win the support of legislative Republicans — who immediately signaled they’re considering a veto override — as well as serve as a national model to states, as gender-affirming care restrictions enacted across the country in recent years face lawsuits.

The vetoed bill also would have banned transgender athletes’ participation in girls’ and women’s sports.

DeWine said he listened to people on both sides of the legislation who all “sincerely and truly believe their position best protects children,” ultimately deciding he could not support legislation that bans healthcare so many patients, families and doctors told him is saving lives.

“Ultimately, these tough, tough decisions should not be made by the government. They should not be made by the state of Ohio,” DeWine said. “They should be made by the people who love these kids the most, and that’s the parents. The parents who have raised that child, the parents who have seen that child go through agony, the parents who worry about that child every single day of their life.”

The governor’s veto drew swift rebukes Friday from supporters of gender-affirming care bans, both in the state and nationally.

Republican Bernie Moreno, a Trump-endorsed candidate for U.S. Senate, and Center for Christian Virtue President Aaron Baer both called on the Legislature to override his veto.

“Mike DeWine has failed Ohio, and it’s our children who are going to pay the price,” Baer said in a statement.

Terry Schilling, president of the conservative American Principles Project, said in a statement that DeWine had succumbed to “egregious lies” being perpetuated about transgender care. He said history would remember that DeWine “gave into cowardice and caved to the transgender industry that is preying on so many vulnerable individuals.”

The conservative Christian legal group Alliance Defending Freedom called DeWine’s veto a betrayal.

Republican state Rep. Gary Click, the bill’s sponsor, stopped short of supporting a veto override. He commended DeWine for trying to wrap his mind around a complex problem in a short amount of time, while defending his own years of research on the bill. Click said he was particularly disappointed that the ban on transgender girls playing sports could be sidelined if non-legislative solutions were pursued on gender-affirming care.

Republican Senate President Matt Huffman and GOP Ohio House Speaker Jason Stephens both expressed disappointment, defending lawmakers’ extensive work on the legislation. Stephens said his chamber is weighing its options with regard to beginning the veto override process.

House Democrats said the legislation was based on hate and DeWine’s veto supported “fundamental freedom” and parental rights. Senate Democratic Leader Nickie Antonio, the first openly gay person to serve in the Ohio General Assembly, said her party would continue its fight “until all may enjoy the freedom to live their authentic lives without government interference.”

The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBTQ+ rights organization, and the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Ohio chapter also lauded the veto as a positive for some of the state’s most vulnerable youth.

It was a moment of relief for Alicia and Aaron Burkle, parents from Cleveland to Astrid, a 10-year-old transgender girl. The family had been looking into options — even considering leaving Ohio — if gender-affirming care was banned. Since the legislation reached his desk, they, along with their friends and family, have been calling and emailing their concerns.

“It’s just been constant action,” Alicia Burkle said. “So to just sit down and listen to his message and hear that he actually listens to families like ours and heard our stories — it actually sounded like he listened.”

It’s not a complete win, though, Aaron Burkle said: “We’re breathing a sigh of relief today, but there’s already been a lot of damage done to our community, to families like ours. And we know that this issue is not yet completely resolved.”

The vetoed bill would have prohibited Ohio minors from receiving gender reassignment surgery, but also from taking puberty blockers or undergoing other hormone therapies. It would have allowed those already undergoing treatments to continue, however.

DeWine directed state agencies to begin the rule-making process to: restrict gender-affirming surgeries to adults only, to set up a system for tracking the gender-affirming treatments both minor and adult Ohioans are undergoing; and to prevent “pop-up clinics or fly-by-night operations” from deceptive practices surrounding gender-affirming care.

The governor said a small number of Ohio children would have been affected by the bill, “but for those children who face gender dysphoria, and for their families, the consequences of this bill could not be more profound.” He said he could think of no example where state law overrules the medical decisions of not only parents, but also the medical judgment of a child’s treating physician and medical team.

DeWine said he does not see that position as inconsistent with his opposition to November’s Issue 1, a successful abortion rights amendment whose backers similarly argued that government has no place in individuals’ personal reproductive decisions.

“On the abortion issue, I believe that’s a question of life and protecting human life,” the governor said. “I believe, ultimately, my decision here was ultimately made about protecting life, and that is the lives of these children.”

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Associated Press writer Brooke Schultz in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, contributed to this report.