At Wednesday night’s GOP debate, presidential candidates Nikki Haley, Chris Christie, Vivek Ramaswamy, and Ron DeSantis faced off over numerous key issues, including the growing conflict with China, the high cost of living—and the fight against gender ideology. DeSantis, who passed multiple bills in Florida protecting children from gender ideology, hammered Haley and Christie on their seemingly hands-off legal approach.
In her appearance on CBS Mornings this week, Haley declined to take a stance on the federal role in protecting minors from medicalized gender treatments, instead deferring to parents. “What care should be on the table?” asked the host, “What should the law allow?” In response, Haley argued that “the law should stay out of it, and parents should handle it… And then when that child becomes 18, if they want to make more of a permanent change, they can do that.” It’s unclear if Haley is in favor of cross-sex hormones, puberty blockers—interventions that can cause irreversible damage to a developing body—with a parent’s approval.
Despite her soft answer on this issue, elsewhere Nikki Haley has indicated that she favors a federal ban on so-called sex change surgeries for minors. She also opposes taxpayer funding for transition surgeries.
Given her pro-woman platform, she signed the Concerned Women for America’s pledge to enforce sex-binary distinctions. Haley firmly committed to protect women in law and in women’s shelters, sports, prisons, and education. Her answer on women’s sports is particularly strong, calling the infiltration of male athletes “the women’s issue of our time.”
Still, DeSantis did not wait long in last night’s debate before criticizing her statement that the “law should stay out of it.”
In response to Haley’s initial rebuttal, DeSantis said,
She didn’t respond to the criticism; it wasn’t about the Parents Rights in Education bill. It was about prohibiting sex change operations on minors, they do puberty blockers, these are irreversible. Talk to Chloe Cole—she went through this, now [that] she’s an adult, she’s warning against it. She may never be able to have kids again. That is what Nikki Haley opposed.
DeSantis continued saying,
She said the law shouldn’t get involved in that, and I just asked you if you’re somebody that’s going to be the President of the United States, and you can’t stand up against child abuse, how are you going to be able to stand up for anything?”
Haley’s response illustrates the primary difference between her approach and DeSantis’s. “I never said that,” Haley responded. “I never said that. I said that if you have to be 18 to get a tattoo, you should have to be 18 to have anything done to change your gender.”
To some degree, it appears that DeSantis and others on social media may be misrepresenting Haley. Still, her “leave it to the parents” approach misses the point that doctors and a financially motivated pharmaceutical industry are among the biggest offenders in the fight against gender ideology.
Many detransitioners share that their parents—who in many cases are scared, working with limited medical resources, or whose second language is English—are told by doctors that social transition and medical interventions are the only way to protect their child. In many cases, as with Chloe Cole, the children are struggling with autism, poor mental health, sexual assault, or discomfort during puberty.
By saying the law should stay out of it, Nikki Haley is effectively giving doctors free reign to take advantage of vulnerable parents and children. Many doctors encourage cross-sex hormones, gender mutilating surgeries, or puberty blockers under the false claim that the latter is safe and reversible.
There is a big difference between a limited government and a weak government. Nikki Haley’s preference for the law to “stay out of it” puts the very parents and children she aims to protect at greater risk. We need the states and the federal government to protect the rights of both parents and children. Unless we have both, parents could lose custody of their children if they do not affirm their child’s stated “gender identity.” This is already happening in states like California.
The uncomfortable truth, too, is that some parents encourage their children to transition. As DeSantis argued in response to Chris Christie last night, “as a parent, you do not have the right to abuse your kids.” Parents have the right to use their God-ordained freedom for the best interests of their child; something parents are best equipped to understand and do. Still, the Bible places limits on such authority if they command someone to sin (Ephesians 6:1). The law should, too.
The fight against gender ideology requires strong and courageous leaders who do not hesitate to use the legal power of the purse and the sword to hold bad actors accountable for their actions.
This piece originally appeared in World