A 4-2 vote in the California Senate Business, Professions and Economic Development Committee has tabled SB 201, a bill that would’ve banned unnecessary “corrective” surgery on intersex children under the age of six. The Committee will reconsider the bill during the state’s next legislative session.
While intersex activists and the bill’s author state Sen. Scott Weiner (D) called the bill’s tabling “a travesty,” the California Medical Association, a professional group representing 40,000 physicians statewide, praised the vote, saying some surgeries banned by the legislation are medically necessary and should be decided entirely by parents.
Intersex children are born with any number of chromosomal, gonadal, hormonal, or genital features that cause their bodies to physically manifest some combination of stereotypically male or female biological features. Some of these manifestations don’t reveal themselves until puberty.
Not all intersex people are born with intersex genitals, but when they are, doctors will often surgically “correct” them by “reducing a clitoris, creating a vagina, or relocating an already functional urethra so a child can pee standing up.”
The problem with such surgeries is that they occur before young people can consent to them or develop their own gender identity, often scarring them for life and creating medical and identity difficulties later on.
“Today’s vote was a setback,” Sen. Weiner said, “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.”
Opponents of the bill say it was too broadly written and would’ve also outlawed certain procedures used on non-intersex children. They want a bill that is more narrowly written.
The current bill forbids a number of “non-medically necessary” genital reconstructive surgeries while allowing surgeries that facilitate proper urination, repair exposed lower abdominal structures, or prevent cancer of the gonads.
Intersex people often face discrimination and violence by people who consider them as “unnatural” or “queer” even though being intersex doesn’t determine a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
While there aren’t any reliable estimates of the world’s intersex population, a 2000 study published in the American Journal of Human Biology estimates they’re 1.7% of the human population — that’s 125,884,605 people (roughly the entire population of Japan).