Iowa governor says ‘it’s not easy for me either’ as she signs laws considered life-threatening by trans care providers

Gov. Kim Reynolds shares the stage with Florida governor and likely 2024 Republican presidential candidate Ron DeSantis in Davenport on March 10, 2023. Reynolds’ admiration of DeSantis and imitation of his “anti-woke” platform has been the subject of national political reporting. — via @KimReynoldsIA on Twitter

After not making any public comment on the bill to ban prescribed gender-affirming medical care for transgender Iowans under 18 passed by the Republican majorities in the Iowa Legislature, Gov. Kim Reynolds confirmed on Tuesday she will sign the bill. Responding to questions from reporters, the governor compared the medical care to health- and safety-threatening behavior such as smoking and drinking alcohol, and said the ban “is in the best interest of the kids.”

Reynolds’ remarks came at a news conference to introduce a new app sponsored by the Iowa Department of Public Safety. It was the governor’s first formal news conference since July 12, 2022.

“My heart goes out to them,” Reynolds said regarding transgender young people and their families. “I’m a parent, I’m a grandmother, I know how difficult this is. This is an extremely uncomfortable position for me to be in. I don’t like it. But I have to do what I believe right now is in the best interest of the kids.”

According to the governor, she’s met with parents of transgender kids, although if she did, none of the parents have mentioned this in public and the governor provided no specifics beyond saying, “My heart breaks for them.”

“I’ve sat down and met with them,” she said. “It’s not easy. It’s not easy for me either. It’s not easy for our elected officials to make these decisions. So I just, I hope they know that.”

The governor characterized SF 538 in a deliberately misleading way, saying it creates a “pause” that is needed in order “to understand what these emerging therapies actually may potentially do to our kids.” A “pause” would be temporary, but the prohibitions in the bill have no sunset date or conditions under which they would be terminated. And if Reynolds or the lawmakers who backed the bill were interested in understanding gender-affirming medical therapies, they could have included a provision requiring a study of the therapies and medical science behind them. Neither Reynolds nor Republican leaders in the legislature have proposed a study.

The experts who testified before the Iowa House Governmental Oversight Committee during the only hearing dedicated to discussing the health consequences of the ban all opposed it, and attempted to correct some of the misinformation proponents of the ban were relying on. All the major medical organizations that have expressed an opinion on the topic support gender-affirming medical care for transgender youth.

Radio Iowa reported that the American Medical Association sent Reynolds a letter stating its position that it is “inappropriate and harmful” for a state to “limit the range of care for transgender children.”

At the news conference, Reynolds dismissed the informed opinions and advice from medical experts in favor of her own beliefs. The governor cited her approach to the COVID-19 pandemic in support of her position. During the height of virus spread in Iowa, Reynolds rejected recommendations from major state and national medical organizations, public health experts, the CDC and the White House Coronavirus Task Force regarding virus mitigation, in favor of minimal regulations. According to the governor, this was the right approach. An analysis of COVID-19 deaths in Iowa by the founding dean of the University of Iowa College of Public Health published by the Des Moines Register in October 2021 found that approximately two out of every five deaths could have been prevented if Iowa had the same mitigation efforts Minnesota did.

The governor presented the ban on medical care as a common sense measure to prevent harm to young people.

“We say kids can’t drink until a certain age,” she said. “We say kids can’t smoke until a certain age.”

At 4:45 p.m. on Wednesday, the governor’s office sent out an email with the subject line, “Gov. Reynolds Signs Several Bills into Law.” The email contained a list of 10 bills Reynolds signed earlier in the day. The ninth bill listed was the ban on gender-affirming medical care. The tenth bill was a ban on transgender Iowans using school bathrooms or locker rooms that match their gender identity. The ban applies to students, faculty, staff and all visitors to a school.

Although the governor usually issues a statement when she signs major bills into law, Gov. Reynolds did not include any comment or draw any attention to those final two bills listed in the email.


An earlier version of this story appeared in LV Daily, Little Village’s Monday-Friday email newsletter. Sign up to have it delivered for free to your inbox.