“These decisions should not be made by the government,” he said of HB 68
Gov DeWine

This article first appeared in the Buckeye Flame

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine on Friday vetoed HB 68, a bill that would have banned gender-affirming care in the state of Ohio and prevented trans female athletes from participating on women’s sports team in K-12 and college athletics. 

“I cannot sign this bill as it is currently written,” DeWine said, repeatedly asserting that the “government does not know better than parents.” 

The Ohio legislature passed HB 68 on December 13, sending it on to DeWine for his signature. The governor had 10 days after receiving the bill to make his decision. The Republican-led state legislature needs a 3/5s vote to override the veto. 

In the briefing, DeWine explained that he used those 10 days to have conversations with those affected including: bill sponsor Rep. Gary Click (R-Vickery), physicians and counselors who provide gender-affirming care, detransitioners and medical personnel he met during visits to children’s hospitals in Akron, Columbus and Cincinnati. 

He cited conversations he had with parents of trans youth as influential in his decision to veto the bill. 

“Parents have looked me in the eye and have told me that but for this treatment, their child would be dead,” DeWine said. ‘They told me that their child is only alive but for the gender-affirming care that they have received.”

During the briefing, DeWine repeatedly used pro-life language, similar to the language he used to oppose the statewide abortion-access amendment that passed in November.

“Ultimately, I believe this is about protecting human life,” DeWine said about HB 68.

DeWine said that the part of HB 68 banning trans female athletes from participating in school sports from kindergarten through college did not factor into his decision. 

“The sports part of this bill is certainly important but affects only a handful of children,” DeWine said.

Three paths of action

Despite his veto, DeWine outlined three areas where his administration will be taking action with regards to gender-affirming care.

First, he discussed an administrative rule that would outlaw gender-affirming surgeries for transgender Ohioans under the age of 18. 

However, DeWine specifically noted that no hospitals or clinics in the state of Ohio currently perform gender-affirming surgeries on trangender youth – including the state’s five major children’s hospitals.

“In all the families that I talked to – who looked me in the eye and said, ‘My child would not be alive today but for the care they got, and if you take this care away there will be other families who are not going to be able to get this type of care – none of [the families] that I talked to mentioned surgery,” DeWine said. “That’s not where they were going in the discussion.”

“Frankly, I think that’s a fallacy that is out there – that [gender-affirming healthcare] goes straight to surgery,” the governor added. “It just doesn’t.”

Second, the governor expressed concern around comprehensive data collection.

“There is no comprehensive data today regarding persons who receive this care, nor independent analysis of such data,”  he said. “Therefore, I am directing our agencies to require reporting to the relevant agencies and to report this data to the public and to the general assembly every six months.”

Finally, DeWine also addressed concerns around “pop-up clinics” providing gender-affirming care for transgender youth, introducing a rule to ban “fly-by-night operations.”

The Buckeye Flame has not been able to confirm the existence of any such clinics in the state of Ohio.

DeWine said he hopes to “collaborate and find common ground” on the proposed administrative rules in order to “get these protections adopted through a collaborative and deliberative process.”

While LGBTQ+ organizations across the state have called the veto a major victory, some advocates, organizers and non-profit organizations are still critical of the limits and stipulations the rules will place on healthcare professionals and transgender Ohioans.

In a written statement from TransOhio, Ohio’s only statewide trans-led advocacy organization, organizers said the bill itself still “cast a dark shadow over the rights and safety of transgender youth and their families in Ohio.” And DeWine’s rules will still place transgender youth in danger, the group stated:

“Instead of a full veto of the bill, the governor has instructed his office and the legislature to come up with a new bill that will fully ban any surgeries for trans and nonbinary youth in Ohio, with no exceptions; to require documented medical reporting on trans patients–both minors and adults–sent to the general assembly; and new rules to prevent new gender-affirming clinics from opening in Ohio…”

“House Bill 68 is a dire blow to the transgender community in Ohio, particularly our youth,” said James Knapp, chair of TransOhio. “Trans youth are not a problem that need to be solved. We cannot stand idly by while their essential healthcare and rights are stripped away. TransOhio is committed to supporting those impacted by this harmful legislation, and we urgently call on the public and fellow organizations to join us in this crucial effort.”

Could the legislature override the veto? 

According to the Ohio Constitution, “a three-fifths (60 percent) vote of the members of the House and Senate is necessary to override the governor’s veto.” Currently, Republicans hold a 67 percent majority in the House and a 78 percent majority in the Senate. 

Overriding a governor’s veto is not an unfamiliar action; it occurred in the Ohio House just a few weeks ago, in fact.

On December 13, the House voted 60-31 to override DeWine’s veto of a proposal that would have blocked municipalities from setting stricter tobacco laws than those of the state. The Senate – which has an even larger majority of Republicans – will next vote on whether to complete the veto process. 

DeWine addressed the potential override of his HB 68 veto at the briefing, saying that he hoped that the three administrative actions he was proposing would satisfy the legislature. 

“In several instances, [these three proposals] go further than Rep. Click’s bill,” DeWine said. 

The Buckeye Flame reached out to Click for comment and this piece will be updated if a response is received. 

Representative Derek Merrin (R-Monclova) posted on social media that house Republicans “have the necessary votes to override in the House” and recommended action at the first session in January.

“Speaking out pays off”

Responses to Governor DeWine’s veto poured in quickly. 

Ohio Senate Minority Leader Nickie J. Antonio (D-Lakewood) released a statement during the briefing affirming that Ohioans do not want “the government involved in their personal, private healthcare decisions” and celebrated Governor DeWine’s veto of a bill that “would have taken away the rights of parents.” She also acknowledged that there would be more struggles ahead. 

“The fight for LGBTQ+ equal rights will continue until all may enjoy the freedom to live their authentic lives without government interference,” Antonio said. 

Equality Ohio applauded the “victory” and thanked the thousands of Ohioans who called, emailed, testified and rallied against the bill. 

“Ohio is our home, and your voices have been heard loud and clear,” said Siobhan Boyd-Nelson, interim executive director of Equality Ohio, in a statement. “Together we have preserved the rights of parents to make private healthcare choices for their children and ensured that healthcare professionals and educators can continue to support young people without undue interference.”’

Members of the Ohio Children’s Hospital Association, which includes each of Ohio’s five major children’s hospitals, addressed the veto via a written statement:

“We are thankful for Governor DeWine’s thoughtful approach in thoroughly researching the issue of gender-affirming care and vetoing Sub HB 68 today. We welcome the opportunity to work with the Governor, the Ohio General Assembly and relevant state agencies to ensure Ohio’s youth have access o the critical care they need while also addressing concerns raised during HB 68.”

DeWine’s voicemail was frequently full over the 10-day period where he was weighing his veto decision, reflective of the high volume of responses he received on HB 68 that LGBTQ+ organizations celebrated as contributing to his veto.

“This is a huge win for the families of trans youth in Ohio,” said a post on the Human Rights Campaign’s Facebook page on Friday after the veto announcement. “Speaking out pays off. Thank you to everyone who called and emailed Gov. DeWine in support of trans youth of Ohio!”