California Rejects Unique Intersex Surgery Ban for Some Kids

The measure would have been the first of its kind in the country to ban surgeries on intersex children until they are at least 6. 

The dome and exterior of the State Capitol building in California
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California lawmakers have rejected what would have been a first-of-its-kind ban on medically unnecessary treatment for infants born with ambiguous or conflicting genitalia.

The measure would have banned all procedures on intersex children 6 and under unless the Medical Board of California deemed them medically necessary.

State Sen. Scott Wiener, a Democrat from San Francisco who wrote the measure, called it a civil rights issue and said the bill would “ensure that people who are born intersex are able to make their own choices about their health and their gender identity instead of having other people make those irreversible surgical choices for them.”

But 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.

Three Democrats and one Republican on the Senate Business, Professions and Economic Development Committee voted to reject the bill after a lengthy public hearing that included testimony from people born with intersex traits — some who supported the bill and others who did not.

State Sen. Jerry Hill, a Democrat from San Mateo, said he had an issue with limiting the surgeries until a child was 6.

“I look at my granddaughter who is 5, almost 6 — I don't know if that's something that she could make that decision on,” he said.


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Wiener repeatedly told lawmakers that parents would still have the final decision, but he believed delaying the procedures until a child could talk would help parents make it. He said the vote likely means the proposal will not become law this year but vowed to keep trying to pass it in the future.

“These are kids who are told from a young age that there is something wrong with them," Wiener said. “There is nothing wrong with them, there is nothing to be fixed about them, and they deserve the basic human dignity of being able to make decisions about their own bodies.”

Intersex people are born with genitalia, chromosomes or reproductive organs that don’t fit typical definitions for males or females.

Examples include people born with both ovaries and male genitals or incompletely formed genitals that can be ambiguous. Between 1% and 2% of the population are born with intersex traits, Wiener said.

Bria Brown-King was born with congenital adrenal hyperplasia, a condition that naturally produces higher levels of testosterone and leads to “secondary male characteristics.”

Brown-King said they had surgery when they were 13 after a doctor told them it would make their genitals “appear more normal.”

“I don't know why he assumed to know about how I would or would not want to use my vagina,” Brown-King told lawmakers.

Hillary Copp, a pediatric urologist at the University of California, San Francisco, said she opposed the bill because it would remove "all flexibility for trained medical professionals and their loved ones to do what is in the best interest of the patient.”

She said many times doctors will advise parents not to operate, noting “we're not trying to perform sex assignment surgery.”

“In fact, we don't even assign genders. We talk about the baby,” she said. “This is such a complex issue. Of course we want to get it right."

The measure was opposed by several medical groups, including the California Medical Association, which represents doctors. Records show the group 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.

The committee that received the donation has no official ties to Glazer's campaign. Glazer, through a spokesman, declined to comment on the donation. He voiced his concerns about the bill during the committee hearing but did not cast a vote.

This story has been corrected to show a quote attributed to state Sen. Bill Dodd should have been attributed to Sen. Jerry Hill.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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