With parents’ rights, Iowa giveth and taketh away

The Iowa Legislature and Governor Kim Reynolds cannot seem to make up their minds whether they support parental rights or are against Mom and Dad being the decision-makers when it comes to their children’s well-being.

Trying to analyze Republican officials’ views on parental rights is challenging. Baseball’s infield fly rule is simpler.

In 2021, the Republican majorities in the Iowa House and Iowa Senate passed legislation to prohibit schools from requiring students to wear facial masks in the classroom to fend off Covid. The governor quickly signed the new law, offering this explanation: “Iowa is putting parents back in control of their children’s education and taking greater steps to protect the rights of all Iowans to make their own health care decisions.”

Iowans who disagreed with the effects of the new law at least could understand its parental-rights premise. But last month, the Republican majorities in the Legislature and the governor made a sweeping U-turn on parental control of children’s health care — at least when that care involves teens and pre-teens who identify as transgender.

The Legislature passed a controversial bill prohibiting health care professionals from giving medical treatment “for the purpose of attempting to alter the appearance of, or affirm the minor’s perception of the minor’s gender or sex, if that appearance or perception is inconsistent with the minor’s sex [at birth].”

Doctors had been providing that care only in a small number of cases in Iowa and only then with the approval of parents. The LGBTQ clinic at University of Iowa Hospitals served 211 patients under age 18 last year, the Cedar Rapids Gazette reported.

Such treatments included medications called puberty blockers that have been used for 30 years in the United States. These slow the physical changes puberty causes in the human body. That gives children, their parents, and their health care professionals time to deal with the serious distress the child is experiencing because of a mismatch between their biological sex and the gender they identify with. Other treatments for minors have included hormone therapy and, only rarely, surgery.

But when the governor signed the gender health bill last month, she explained why parental permission was not an adequate reason for minors to receive these treatments.

“I have to do what I believe right now is in the best interest of the kids,” she said. “It’s not easy for our elected officials to make these decisions. We have to try to figure out what’s the best for the majority of our kids.”

Iowans can be forgiven if they have trouble understanding why it is not the parents who get to make those what’s-best-for-the-kids decisions, in consultation with their child’s health care providers.

We can forgive the Matt McIver of Iowa who all are asking why their opinions count for nothing when it comes to medical care for their trans kids and why, instead, Kim Reynolds and Republican lawmakers have the superior intellect to make these decisions for kids.

McIver, a Des Moines dad, is the father of an 11-year-old transgender son. He told the online news site Iowa Starting Line the prohibition on gender-affirming health care for trans kids is “government overreach that inserts legislators in between parents and children.”

Many Iowans do not know any trans kids or trans adults. But if you are someone who does not believe government should be ordering kids to wear facial coverings to guard against a disease that was causing dozens of deaths per day in Iowa when the law was enacted, then why should government have the final say over health care for trans kids?

That question is especially pertinent because one of the governor’s education bills, approved by lawmakers this spring, contains sweeping “parental empowerment” language that would seem to address Matt McIver’s concerns.

Language in that legislation says, “A parent or guardian bears the ultimate responsibility, and has the fundamental, constitutionally protected right, to make decisions affecting the parent’s or guardian’s minor child, including decisions related to the minor child's medical care, moral upbringing, religious upbringing, residence, education, and extracurricular activities.”

Rep. Cindy Winckler, a Davenport Democrat, asked her Republican colleagues during debate, “How can you make such a statement about parental rights and then take it away?”

Whitney Turner of Mount Vernon, the mother of a 14-year-old transgender girl, echoed that sentiment, saying this to the Cedar Rapids Gazette about the governor: “I don’t know what children she is protecting. It feels like state-sanctioned bullying.”

Republicans cannot have it both ways.

* * *

Randy Evans can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com

Go to top