Xavier Becerra, the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), appeared before the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce on June 13 to discuss HHS priorities. Secretary Becerra was questioned on a number of issues, ranging from mask requirements for young children to recent reports demonstrating that the Department had released unaccompanied migrant minors to guardians who exploited them for labor. 

Although Secretary Becerra was happy to answer questions from Democratic representatives on the Affordable Care Act, abortion access, and grant programs for underserved communities, he frequently failed to persuasively defend HHS policies from Republican inquiries. 

Particularly on the issue of puberty blockers, raised by Congressman Glenn Grothman and Congresswoman Carol Miller, Secretary Becerra refused to follow the science, demonstrating the dangers of placing ideology over rigorous medical investigation. 

Congressman Grothman, who began his questioning by sharing his experience meeting with a detransitioner who severely regretted the “gender-affirming” medical services she received, asked Secretary Becerra, “What are puberty blockers?”

Secretary Becerra responded, “There are a number of medical treatments and services that are provided to Americans to fulfill their healthcare needs.”

Representative Grothman persisted, asking about the impact of puberty blockers on brain development. Secretary Becerra avoided the question, instead answering, “Based on the recommendations of a physician, an individual would be recommended for different types of medicine.”

Representative Grothman then asked if studies had been conducted on the long-term effects of puberty blockers over 20-30 years. Secretary Becerra argued, “There is scientific and medical evidence with regard to the practice of some of these medicines.” When Representative Grothman pressed Secretary Becerra to show this evidence, he responded that several physicians have offered “gender-affirming” care for some time and numerous national medical associations now recommend “gender-affirming” care. 

Medical associations that now push gender transition procedures include the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Academy of Nursing, among others

In fact, there are few long-term studies on the impact of puberty blockers. In 2022, Reuters reported,

Puberty blockers and sex hormones do not have U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for children’s gender care. No clinical trials have established their safety for such off-label use. The drugs’ long-term effects on fertility and sexual function remain unclear. And in 2016, the FDA ordered makers of puberty blockers to add a warning about psychiatric problems to the drugs’ label after the agency received several reports of suicidal thoughts in children who were taking them.

It is also now widely established that puberty blockers severely damage bone density, as the New York Times reported in November 2022. By delaying the release of hormones, children’s bone density growth flatlines and users of puberty blockers are at risk of developing osteoporosis early in life. 

Eventually, Representative Grothman asked Secretary Becerra about the growing move away from “gender-affirming” care for minors in countries such as Finland, Sweden, and Great Britain, amidst the growing research on medical transitioning. However, Secretary Becera feigned ignorance. 

“I could tell you about America, I’d be out of my lane if I…”

Representative Grothman interrupted, asking, “Doesn’t it bother you that other European countries at one time used these and now are backing off?” 

Secretary Becerra deflected the challenge and said he trusts the medical professionals in the United States. 

Independent Women’s Forum senior fellow Kaylee McGhee White recently published an article on the growing move away from puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones for minors in Western European nations based not on a shift in ideology but on growing scientific evidence showing detrimental effects on the physical and mental health of minors who undergo gender-transition treatment. 

The next hour of the hearing steered towards the Department’s abysmal caretaking of unaccompanied migrant children, the attempt to terminate Medicare for St. Francis Hospital unless it extinguished a candle in its chapel, and recommendations that very young children be forced to wear masks at school. 

However, Congresswoman Carol Miller again turned back to the topic of puberty blockers, asking bluntly, “Do puberty blockers pose a risk to children and teenagers?”

Secretary Becerra denied this and stated, “If a medical professional has been recommending health care for an individual then I would believe that the healthcare professional had the best interest of that individual in mind in prescribing or recommending certain treatment or medicines.”

Congresswoman Miller then pointed out that the FDA itself admitted that puberty blockers can cause brain swelling, brain tumors, and blindness. 

Secretary Becerra continued to defend the FDA. “You’ve shown me nothing that says that the FDA didn’t go through a process to ensure that a particular drug was safe and effective. It would not be on the market if it weren’t and we would find the FDA in court for having put a mark on a drug.”

In 2022, the FDA added a warning to gonadotropin-releasing hormone agonists, or “puberty blockers,” that they may cause pseudotumor cerebri (increase pressure inside the skull with no obvious symptoms), with symptoms including brain swelling and even permanent vision loss.

If Secretary Becerra and the national medical associations that advocate for gender-transition treatment removed their ideological blinders and conducted an unbiased review of the evidence, they would see several reasons for concern with prescribing puberty blockers to young children. 

Oxford University Professor Michael Biggs, who conducted an experimental trial of puberty blockers in the UK, concluded,

There was no statistically significant difference in psychosocial functioning between the group given blockers and the group given only psychological support. In addition, there is unpublished evidence that after a year on [puberty blockers] children reported greater self-harm, and the girls also experienced more behavioral and emotional problems and expressed greater dissatisfaction with their body—so puberty blockers exacerbated gender dysphoria.

The American College of Pediatricians also reports, “Temporary use of Lupron has also been associated with and may be the cause of many serious permanent side effects including osteoporosis, mood disorders, seizures, cognitive impairment and, when combined with cross-sex hormones, sterility.”

Medical associations in Australia and across Western Europe, which originally supported the proliferation of gender-transition regimens, are now calling treatments such as puberty blockers “dangerous and experimental.” 

However, Secretary Becerra’s testimony at the hearing demonstrates that the United States has no intention to back down from gender-transition treatment regardless of the science and will continue to defer to the ideologically-driven medical associations pushing these regimens, often to the long-term detriment of the children they claim to help. 

To learn more about the risks of gender-transition treatments in adolescents, read IWF’s policy focus