Dr. Jesse Ehrenfeld is a U.S. Navy combat veteran who will be inaugurated as the American Medical Association’s (AMA) first out gay president on June 13 – and he says the organization “simply will not stand” for legislation targeting abortion and gender-affirming care. He has pledged to use “every avenue available” to oppose such laws.
“We see the attack on reproductive care, reproductive access, and transgender healthcare as a continuum of government overreach into patient-physician decision making,” Ehrenfeld told The Washington Blade. The AMA, whose mission is to advocate “the art and science of medicine [for] the betterment of public health,” represents at least 271,660 members, including physicians and medical students.
“We simply will not stand for the government coming in to interfere with the doctor-patient relationship [by passing bills that] outlaw what we know to be appropriate, evidence-based clinical guidelines-based care,” Ehrenfeld said.
The AMA has long advocated for progressive and LGBTQ+-inclusive medical practices, including the removal of sex as a legal designation on birth certificates, a ban on conversion therapy, a ban on requiring surgeries for gender marker changes on government-issued identification documents, and changes to the Food and Drug Administration’s prohibitions on blood donations from men who have sex with men. The group’s journal has also noted how healthcare disparities disproportionately affect transgender people.
But Ehrenfeld said his inauguration marks an “important moment” in the AMA’s history as it signals increased LGBTQ+ visibility in a field that wasn’t always open to queer professionals or queer patients’ needs. Ehrenfeld and his husband will be marching with an AMA group in Chicago’s Pride parade, a first for the group that seems particularly significant considering the wave of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation being introduced nationwide.
“We have a lot of backseat drivers trying to tell doctors what to do,” Ehrenfeld said of bans on gender-affirming care for minors that have been passed in 18 states and introduced in 13 other states. He said these “backseat drivers” include “insurance companies who put up barriers around prior authorization for getting approval for care and services.”
The AMA has said that gender-affirming care is safe and essential to the overall well-being of trans youth. However, laws that criminalize gender-affirming care — charging doctors with felonies and revoking their medical licenses for rendering such care — cause “moral injury” to physicians, Ehrenfeld added, putting medical professionals in “an untenable choice: provide the care that they know is in the patient’s best interests, or break the law and [potentially] go to jail.”
“That stress is real,” Ehrenfeld said. “There’s not a week that goes by that I don’t hear from a colleague who says I can’t take it anymore.”
Additionally, Ehrenfeld said that the AMA has noticed a drop in healthcare workers applying for jobs in states passing such legislation. The lack of workers could eventually risk the lives of every potential patient in those states, regardless of their feelings on trans care for minors.
Ehrenfeld noted that a lot of his professional work has included improving healthcare access for LGBTQ+ people. He pledged that the AMA will use “every avenue available” to oppose such legislation, including encouraging the National Governors Association to file lawsuits and amicus briefs against bans on gender-affirming care as well as working with other stakeholders to influence state and federal policies in governmental and private sectors.
Ehrenfeld directs a philanthropic organization called Advancing a Healthier Wisconsin Endowment and has previously taught at Vanderbilt University’s School of Medicine. He has also worked as a consultant for the World Health Organization’s Digital Health Technical Advisory Group and as a special adviser to President Donald Trump’s (R) U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams.
While serving as Adams’ adviser in 2019, he testified to the U.S. House Armed Services Committee against Trump’s ban on trans military members. Ehrenfeld told the committee that he found “no medically valid reason — including a diagnosis of gender dysphoria — to exclude transgender individuals from military service.”