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Utah hospital system cancels adult gender-affirming surgery appointments

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Utah's largest health care provider looked like it was on the path to expanding gender-affirming surgery options for adults. But in January, the state passed a law banning gender-affirming care for minors. And now the hospital system says it will not offer those additional adult services. Saige Miller at member station KUER reports.

SAIGE MILLER, BYLINE: Amber Chevrier knew something wasn't right with her body since puberty, but she didn't learn the words to describe how she felt until her mid-20s, when she met a trans woman.

AMBER CHEVRIER: Everything that she described as being her before she came out was how I was feeling all of the time.

MILLER: Chevrier made the decision to surgically transition. She chose to use Intermountain Health because it was in her insurance network. Chevrier had her first consultation last October for what's known as bottom surgery, or procedures to modify genitalia as part of gender-affirming care. But months into preparing for that, she received a call in late February from a social worker with Intermountain's LGBTQ Health Program.

CHEVRIER: Who informed me that Intermountain was changing policies. And when they did that, the policy change was that they were no longer allowing bottom surgeries for trans patients, for patients specifically diagnosed with gender dysphoria.

MILLER: Chevrier, who is 33 years old, says she was about six months away from getting a surgery date.

CHEVRIER: I wasn't expecting that type of news. My mind kind of went blank for the rest of the conversation because it just was crushing.

MILLER: She wasn't expecting the news because when Utah passed a new law banning gender-affirming surgeries in January, it was only for trans youth. It's still legal for adults in the state to get bottom surgery. Intermountain says it has never performed bottom surgeries for gender care. But Chevrier says the health system was preparing her to get it. Sue Robbins, a trans advocate with the group Equality Utah, says it looks like Intermountain changed its policies right after the law passed banning gender-affirming care for minors, SB16.

SUE ROBBINS: They had been scheduling preliminary appointments or pre-op appointments to start working with who would be their first patients, and then they started canceling those after SB16.

MILLER: Intermountain isn't talking to reporters about the cancellations, which suggest a change in policy. But in a memo sent to staff, it said no single event prompted the decision to continue offering the same services in the future that we have been providing in the past. Intermountain recently hired a doctor with experience in doing those procedures. That doctor declined to be interviewed for this story. Sue Robbins is suspicious.

ROBBINS: It's really tough on the community because we feel like we had made a lot of advances. So this feels like a big blowback. And when you feel like your rights are being taken away and you know it's misinformation, it can be hard.

MILLER: For Chevrier, it'll take time for her to feel supported going through the surgery process again, but it won't stop her.

CHEVRIER: It's important because it's who I am. I was born and raised being told that I was a boy. I am not. I'm a woman, and I deserve to have the care that allows me to express that.

MILLER: But she isn't confident her surgery will ever take place at an Intermountain facility. For NPR News, I'm Saige Miller in Salt Lake City.

(SOUNDBITE OF BROWN BIRD'S "SHADRACH") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Saige Miller

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