Ohio Governor Vetoes Gender-Affirming Care Ban—Showing Republicans *Can* Respect Personal Medical Decisions

From trans healthcare to abortion care, Republican politicians are increasingly using their power to determine which types of care are allowed, and for whom

Raymond (last name omitted for privacy) lives in Mississippi and is one of the 35 percent of transgender youth living in states that have passed bans on gender-affirming care. (Rory Doyle / The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine just became the first Republican governor to veto a ban on healthcare for transgender youth. In his remarks, he stated he could think of no example where a state would overrule medical decisions that are “not only against the decision of the parents, but also against the medical judgment of the treating physician and the judgment of the treating team of medical experts.”  

DeWine’s decision, which drew backlash from his party, is correct about one thing: Politicians are not doctors and have no place intruding on decisions that go against the combined expertise of patient and provider. 

Doctors’ offices are private spaces. They are closed-door rooms where we can discuss our health needs with clinicians who have had years, if not decades, of specialized training. When I go in for a check-up, I think about my symptoms, health goals, and whether my doctor will listen to me. What I do not think about is my representative or senator. Yet increasingly, politicians are using their power to determine what types of care are allowed, and for whom. 

To be clear, I am not talking about the state enacting policies that benefit entire communities. Think about the important role elected officials can play when it comes to childhood vaccine requirements, food safety regulations, and other public health measures to keep us all healthy.

Politicians are not in the weeds of medical care—patients and doctors are. 

Recent laws banning abortion and essential healthcare for transgender people interfere with individual decisions about our health, bodies and our ability to control our futures.

These political attacks on bodily autonomy are aimed at and disproportionately affect marginalized groups of people. Take abortion, for example. Black women have the highest abortion rate compared to other racial and ethnic groups and are more than three times as likely to die of pregnancy-related causes compared to white women. Now consider bans on gender-affirming care, which targets transgender youth who experience increased rates of depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation. By banning personal healthcare decision-making, politicians are exacerbating existing inequities for historically oppressed communities. 

It is scary to think that approximately two dozen state legislatures believe they are medical experts who know what care is best for an individual (25 states ban or restrict abortion services and 22 states ban or restrict access to essential healthcare for transgender youth). But politicians are not in the weeds of medical care—patients and doctors are. 

Healthcare providers spend years studying, training, and becoming familiar with medical research and expert standards of care. The same is true for doctors who work with transgender people. They read evidence-based care standards for treating gender dysphoria and study the unique health needs of both youth and adults.

For patients, medical decisions are not taken lightly. We may spend months documenting and researching our symptoms, trying home remedies, or consulting with friends and family. Most transgender young people wait months, if not years, to see an appropriate doctor about their gender dysphoria once they reach adolescence. During this time, they may find other ways to feel affirmed in their gender identity, such as changing their name or pronouns to improve their mental health. Counselors work with transgender youth as well and later collaborate with the patient’s medical care team and parents to help the young person navigate their health goals.

While I like to hope that our trust in doctors will prevent future anti-trans legislation, many proposed restrictions on transgender healthcare are carrying over into the 2024 legislative cycle. More than ever, we must urge elected leaders to enact protections that ensure every person has the freedom to make healthcare decisions for their livelihoods and their future.

At the end of the day, we do not need politicians in the doctor’s room telling us what to do with our bodies.  

Update on Monday, Jan. 8 at 9:35 a.m. PT: Just one week after vetoing legislation that would have banned care for minors, Gov. DeWine announced new administrative rules meant to restrict access to gender-affirming healthcare for transgender adults. One such rule will require trans adults seeking access to hormones and other medications to retain a multidisciplinary team “including but not limited to an endocrinologist, a bioethicist and a psychiatrist.”

The same day, DeWine signed an executive order prohibiting gender-affirming surgeries for minors—making Ohio only the second state to do so, after Arizona.

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U.S. democracy is at a dangerous inflection point—from the demise of abortion rights, to a lack of pay equity and parental leave, to skyrocketing maternal mortality, and attacks on trans health. Left unchecked, these crises will lead to wider gaps in political participation and representation. For 50 years, Ms. has been forging feminist journalism—reporting, rebelling and truth-telling from the front-lines, championing the Equal Rights Amendment, and centering the stories of those most impacted. With all that’s at stake for equality, we are redoubling our commitment for the next 50 years. In turn, we need your help, Support Ms. today with a donation—any amount that is meaningful to you. For as little as $5 each month, you’ll receive the print magazine along with our e-newsletters, action alerts, and invitations to Ms. Studios events and podcasts. We are grateful for your loyalty and ferocity.


Sara Mar is a public voices fellow of The OpEd Project and AcademyHealth.