Iowa Senate Minority Leader Janet Petersen, D-Des Moines, last week promoted on Facebook an effort in the state to ban conversion therapy.

She shared an article highlighting a case in New Jersey where an organization was successfully sued under that state’s ban and applauded the efforts of State Rep. Marti Anderson, D-Des Moines, to pass a ban in Iowa.

“Thank you Marti Anderson for your leadership on this issue in Iowa. We need more leaders to stand up for children’s rights in our state,” Petersen posted last Friday.

Conversion therapy bans that have been introduced in Iowa would prevent licensed mental health professionals from engaging in efforts to change a patients sexual orientation, gender expression, or gender identity.

Those who engage in such activity under legislation filed over the last two general assemblies would be subject to the licensing authority or disciplinary authority over the mental health provider.

The prohibition includes providers such as physicians and surgeons who specialize in psychiatry, a licensed marital and family therapist, licensed mental health counselor, licensed social worker, licensed school counselor, school psychologist, school social worker, advanced nurse practitioner, psychiatric nurse, and anyone else who provides counseling, mental health, and behavioral health services or practice under Iowa law or rule. It also includes students or volunteers who work under these professionals.

There are problems with these types of bills. First, the definition of “conversion therapy” is broad. A bill offered this past session by State Rep. Bruce Hunter, D-Des Moines, defined “conversion therapy” as “any practice by a mental health provider that seeks to change an individual’s sexual orientation, including but not limited to efforts to change behaviors or gender expressions or gender identity, or to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same sex.”

This definition does not include “counseling or therapy that provides acceptance, support, and understanding of the individual or the facilitation of an individual’s coping, social support, and identity exploration and development, including sexual orientation-neutral interventions to prevent or address unlawful conduct or unsafe sexual practices.”

One would think that any attempt at a ban would target controversial treatments that have been utilized in the past such as electroshock therapy and reparative therapy. One can also understand a ban on coercing people into therapy who do not want to change, something that by any professional and ethical standard, would be out-of-bounds.

It goes beyond that, however, as the ban would also include talk therapy, a practice many counselors use for a whole host of issues.

The definitions provided in recent legislation will only permit acceptance and support of the behavior, as well as, “sexual orientation-neutral interventions to prevent or address unlawful conduct or unsafe sexual practices.”

Second, a simple question, what if the person seeking therapy wants to change?

Are they not allowed to specify their treatment goals? Don’t they have a say? Shouldn’t their wishes be honored?

Also, with conversion therapy bans and the way many of them are written there are free speech and religious liberty concerns. Obviously, if a client seeking therapy wants to their sexual orientation, gender identity, affirmed then a therapist has an ethical obligation to refer them to someone who can provide that service.

Here we have progressives, like Petersen, who supposedly are all about “choice” and “freedom” want to take away this option for those who seek it and coerce therapists to say things in a therapy session that they may not believe.

Third, those who advocate for these bans believe sexual orientation is immutable. Considering they think things like gender identity are fluid this is an odd position to take. Advocates will say there is no reliable evidence that sexual orientation can be changed, but there’s also no reliable evidence that it can’t. Both sides rely upon anecdotal evidence based on those who have successfully or unsuccessfully gone through treatment.

Fourth, under the guise of wanting therapists to do no harm advocates of conversion therapy bans do harm, especially to children who suffer from gender dysphoria.

Gender dysphoria is a condition that causes a person to feel discomfort and distress with their given body. Those who suffer this way should be treated with the utmost compassion. However, there is not any scientific evidence that shows medically altering the body to make it appear more like the opposite sex actually provides any relief. Oftentimes the condition is the manifestation of underlying issues such as depression, anxiety, or wounds from past abuse.

Issues that could be explored and addressed with talk therapy.

Also, the current treatment protocols are driven by transgender activists, not medical professionals. For children, treatment includes a regimen of highly experimental drugs and cross-sex hormone treatments, none of which have been approved by the FDA, and they put children at risk. Cross-sex hormones result in high risk for blood clots, breast cancer, severe liver dysfunction, heart disease, hypertension, uterine cancer, among other health issues such as infertility.

We don’t want to provide mental health professionals with other options? Also, studies have shown 80-95 percent of children who experience gender dysphoria come to accept the reality of their biological sex by late adolescence.

Are we going to eventually force physicians to provide medical treatments for these children even though there are concerns within the medical community?

Fifth, will we stop with mental health professionals? Why not pastors?

In California, Assembly Concurrent Resolution 99 was introduced after AB 2943 failed. That bill said “advertising, offering to engage in, or engaging in sexual orientation change efforts with an individual” was illegal and subject to state’s consumer fraud law.

Alliance Defending Freedom Attorney Matt Sharp explained the implications of that bill: “California AB 2943 makes it unlawful for any person to sell books, counseling services, or anything else that helps someone overcome unwanted same-sex attraction or gender identity confusion. As a result, it could be a violation if a pastor encourages a congregant to visit the church book store to purchase books that help people address sexual issues, perhaps including the Bible itself, which teaches about the importance of sexual purity within the confines of marriage between a man and woman.”

The other of that bill offers ACR 99 as a “compromise” which (for now) doesn’t carry the force of law.

The bill calls upon the state’s religious leaders to “counsel on LGBT matters from a place of love, compassion, and knowledge of the psychological and other harms of conversion therapy.”

It further calls on “counselors, pastors, religious workers, educators” and institutions with “great moral influence” to stop promoting the idea that there is something wrong with LGBT identities and sexual behavior.

Yes, Iowa is not California, but that is the road we are headed down.

In conclusion, we should be concerned and condemn coercive and abusive practices, but conversion therapy bans go far beyond that. They take away choice and they restrict freedom. It’s also an attempt to silence all dissent and that is something Iowans should reject.

Photo credit: Iowa Senate Democrats

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