Legislature considers counseling ban that could affect faith-based therapy

| Susan Klemond | February 15, 2019 | 0 Comments

While condemning the abuse some have suffered through so-called “conversion therapy,” Catholics and others who testified before a Minnesota legislative committee Feb. 13 said a bill to ban some counseling of children and vulnerable adults on same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria is overly broad and would limit patients’ treatment options.

It would also violate First Amendment rights of therapists and other providers, they said.

Testifying before the House Health and Human Services Policy Committee were psychologists and other professionals, some those sharing adverse effects of conversion therapy and others describing positive counseling experiences.

“The psychologist’s role is to listen non-judgmentally and give care to clients, whether children or adults to understand how they want to grow and then to facilitate this growth,” testified David Kirby, a licensed clinical psychologist at Arden Woods Psychological Services in New Brighton.

The committee advanced the bill, HF 12, Feb. 13 to the Commerce committee. Its chances of passage are unclear because the Republican-controlled Senate has not advanced it. Last month New York became the 15th state to pass such bans, but many of the states are facing legal challenges to the bans.

Authored by DFL Rep. Hunter Cantrell of Savage, the bill prohibits mental health professionals and practitioners from counseling children or vulnerable adults with the intention of changing their sexual orientation or gender identity. It also prohibits medical assistance coverage for such counseling and bans misrepresentation of conversion-therapy services or products.

“Conversion therapy is not only an unfounded scientific practice but a severely damaging one as well,” Cantrell testified. 

But Kirby objected to using the term “conversion therapy” to describe all therapy that’s not gay-affirming. The term has negative connotations from sometimes abusive techniques used more often in the 1970s.

A section of the bill pertains to advertisement and sales and could threaten churches and other organizations with prosecution for fraud if they offer fee-based services that uphold Church teaching on sexuality, such as conferences. Free services are not affected.

The Minnesota Catholic Conference opposes the bill, in part because it could impact settings far beyond professional counseling, said Jason Adkins, MCC executive director. MCC is the Church’s public policy voice in Minnesota supporting the ministry of the state’s Catholic bishops.

“It could affect counselors who work in faith-based settings, as well as the operation and content of church events, and those who publish and sell works that communicate Catholic moral teaching,” he said.

Religious Sister of Mercy Mara Lester, a psychiatrist with Catholic Charities of Southern Minnesota in Winona, submitted a letter to the committee stating the bill is overly broad and could prevent young people and families from seeking needed help. She also said it would inhibit medical professionals from providing care they’re ethically bound to provide. 

Republican Rep. Jeff Backer of Browns Valley, who voted against the bill, said it would limit doctors’ ability to give their clients options.

“If a patient is looking for direction, if they’re asking for help, this I see could limit them,” he said.

Peggy Doherty, a parishioner of St. Joseph in West St. Paul, testified about seeing a number of counselors as she wrestled with same-sex attraction, depression and anxiety during an 18-year period. Counselors didn’t try to change her, but they helped her to know herself better and resolve the issues. Doherty said the bill would prohibit the therapy choices she had. 

“We live in a culture today that allows men and women to change their bodies based on the gender they identify with,” she said. “Why shouldn’t we be allowed to change our mind?”

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Category: Local News