Gov. Spencer Cox of Utah signed a bill on Saturday that blocks minors from receiving gender-transition health care, the first such measure in the country this year in what is expected to be a wave of legislation by state lawmakers to restrict transgender rights.
The law prohibits transgender youth in the state from receiving gender-affirming surgery and places an indefinite ban on hormone therapy, with limited exceptions.
Mr. Cox, a Republican, said in a statement that banning these treatments was necessary until more research could be done on their long-term effects.
“While we understand our words will be of little comfort to those who disagree with us, we sincerely hope that we can treat our transgender families with more love and respect as we work to better understand the science and consequences behind these procedures,” the governor said.
Leading medical groups, including the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics, have rejected claims that gender-affirming care is harmful to transgender children or adults.
On Being Transgender in America
The A.C.L.U. of Utah said the state’s new law violated due process and equal protection rights guaranteed by the Constitution. “In this case, legislators and the governor claim to have concern for Utah’s youth but ignore the medical professionals who care for them, the parents who love them and the young people themselves,” Aaron Welcher, a spokesman, said.
Governor Cox was one of two Republican governors last year to veto a bill that would have barred transgender students from participating in girls’ sports. At the time, he cited the high rates of suicide among transgender youth and acknowledged the concerns of transgender advocates that the bill would adversely affect the mental health of transgender children.
After that measure had been passed by the Legislature, Mr. Cox addressed the transgender community in a news conference, saying: “We care about you. We love you. It’s going to be OK.”
The Utah Legislature later overrode the governor’s veto.
On Saturday, Mr. Cox praised the recent bill’s sponsor, State Senator Michael Kennedy, a Republican and family practice physician, who said in a meeting last week of the Utah House Health and Human Services Committee that allowing such treatments represented “a radical and dangerous push for children to enter this version of health care.”
Utah joined four states — Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona and Tennessee — that have enacted laws restricting transgender youth’s access to gender-transition care. Federal judges in Arkansas and Alabama have temporarily blocked enforcement of those measures pending the outcome of lawsuits.
In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott established similar restrictions last year without the help of the state’s Legislature, instructing the state’s health agencies to classify gender-affirming health care as “child abuse” and authorizing investigations of families seeking that treatment. The state Supreme Court temporarily blocked the governor and attorney general from ordering investigations, but the injunction applied only to the families who had sued and did not block the law’s enforcement entirely.
This year, Republican lawmakers have proposed more than 150 bills in at least 25 states restricting the rights of transgender people.
More than a dozen bills focus on blocking transgender youth from receiving surgical or hormonal treatment for gender dysphoria — a distress over the mismatch of their birth sex and gender identity.
Lawmakers in Oklahoma and South Carolina have proposed criminalizing all gender- affirming health care for transgender people under 26 years old. Bills in Kansas and Mississippi would ban such care up to age 21.
Maggie Astor and Eduardo Medina contributed reporting.