We regret to share that today, California Senate Bill 201 (SB201), would have banned medically unnecessary surgeries on intersex infants and minors until the age of six, failed to garner enough votes to pass. As reported in the Associated Press,
“…a majority of state lawmakers on a key legislative committee thought the bill’s definition of “intersex” was too broad, especially after hearing testimony from a pediatric urologist who said it would limit doctors’ ability to treat patients with complex medical issues.”
Ironically, some of the Senators voting on the bill were swayed by fervent claims by the American Urological Association and the California Medical Association that the bill would not allow them to honor their oath to “first do no harm.” While the language of the bill is very clear that the only procedures banned by the bill are cosmetic procedures which are unnecessary for the physical health of the child, some doctors nevertheless claimed otherwise by blurring the definition of what is considered “medically necessary.”
Doctors who opposed the passage of SB201 claimed that the unnecessary cosmetic surgeries we are routinely subjected to as infants are beneficial to us, thus painting them medically necessary. We note that such claims are:
1. unsupported by medical or other studies;
2. highly contested by the vast majority of intersex adults who underwent the procedures; and,
3. based entirely on doctors’ individual social beliefs rather than their medical expertise.
There is also indication that stakeholders may have been swayed by monetary donations from medical associations lobbying against SB201’s passage. As noted in The Mercury News, the California Medical Association, one of the bill’s primary opponents, donated $50,000 last week to a committee working to reelect Sen. Steve Glazer, a Democrat and chairman of the panel that rejected the bill.
In addition, some doctors whom oppose the bill misrepresented what the practice actually entails and the reasons it is carried out. For example, Hillary Copp, a pediatric urologist at the University of California, San Francisco, claimed in The Mercury News that, “..we’re not trying to perform sex assignment surgery.”
If cutting babies’ genitals in order to make them look male or more female isn’t sex assignment surgery, what is? The very reason these special protocols exist in the case of intersex people is that doctors perceive there is a problem with our sex.
“In fact, we don’t even assign genders. We talk about the baby,” Copp went on to say, trying to deny that these surgeries aim to assign a male or female sex/gender (sex and gender are conflated in law) to intersex infants. But she inadvertently reveals the disingenuous nature of her statements in her very next sentence, “This is such a complex issue. Of course we want to get it right.”
This language isn’t used when babies are born typically male or female because there isn’t a perception that there is anything is wrong. What doctors want to “get right” in the case of intersex babies is precisely which sex/gender assignment we should be given, male or female, because of the perception that we can’t be left to live as we are born: intersex.
We reject the disingenuous claims made by doctors and medical associations opposing SB201, and call on all medical practitioners and associations to honor their pledge to “first do no harm” by allowing intersex individuals to choose for ourselves if we want to make any medically unnecessary changes to our bodies’ natural, healthy sex traits. The risks in trying to make these decisions for us are simply too high, in addition to being unnecessary and misguided. Like typical males and females, we can and should be the ones to request any gender affirming surgical procedures when we are old enough to know if we want them.
As always, we are deeply grateful to Senator Scott Weiner, who authored SB201 and had this to say about the results:
“I’m very disappointed that the Committee voted down this civil rights bill. Intersex people deserve legal protection, and we are committed to ensuring that protection under California law. Today’s vote was a setback, but this is only the beginning. We aren’t giving up on protecting intersex people from non-consensual, invasive, dangerous surgery. As with many civil rights struggles, it sometimes takes multiple tries to prevail. We will be back.”