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Transgender athletes 'deprive' women of opportunity, GOP senators say, push bill to ban them in college sports

'The NCAA caved to the progressive agenda for fear of backlash and getting canceled,' Sen. Tommy Tuberville said

By Tyler Olson | Fox News

A group of Republican senators Wednesday argued that allowing males to compete in women's sports steals opportunity and potential scholarships from female athletes – as they pushed a bill that would effectively ban males from women's college sports. 

"The activists who are pushing to open positions on women's teams on biological men are doing nothing but undermining girls' competitiveness and the fundamental fairness of all women's sport competitions," Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Miss., said on a call with reporters. 

"By ignoring the difference between biological females and biological males, we will inevitably deprive women and girls of spots on sports team rosters, of playing time during games, and of scholarships," Hyde-Smith said. 

Sens. Jon Ernst, R-Iowa, Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., and Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Hyde-Smith all expressed their support for the Protection of Women and Girls in Sports Act. The bill would ban any institutions that receive federal funds, like universities, from allowing "a person whose sex is male to participate in an athletic program or activity that is designated for women or girls." 

The bill defines sex as "based solely on a person's reproductive biology and genetics at birth."

"I firmly believe no one should be discriminated against and that everyone should be treated with dignity, respect and privacy," Ernst added. "But we cannot ignore the biological differences in men's and women's athletics."

The comments from the senators come as transgender participation in women's sports is under the microscope due to the dominance of transgender University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas. Thomas previously competed on the school's men's team before undergoing hormone treatments and switching to the women's team – a move that's sparked widespread backlash. 

Thomas was not among the top men's swimmers in the NCAA. But now competing with women, Thomas swam the fastest times in the nation since early November in both the 200-meter freestyle and the 500-meter freestyle, according to USA Swimming. Thomas also notched the seventh-fastest time in the NCAA in the 1650-meter freestyle. 

Many competitors and observers argue that Thomas at an unfair advantage because the fifth-year senior is biologically male. On the same call as the senators, which was organized by the Independent Women's Law Center, the mother of a swimmer who competed against Thomas alleged the playing field simply isn't fair. 

"My daughter and so many other women have raced against Katie Ledecky, Missy Franklin and Simone Manuel. These women are amazing specimens of female capability. No woman feels robbed of opportunity from their success," the woman said. She went by Margaret, which is not her real name, to prevent backlash against her daughter. 

"Lia, who was not an NCAA championship competitor against men, but is in competition with only Olympians against women," Margaret continued, has "physiological and hormonal advantages… not accessible or attainable for any biological woman."

"The race feels fixed. The rules feel wrong, weighted with concern and preference for this male body," Margaret continued. "We are harming women. We are damaging our girls."

Amid the controversy over Thomas' status, the NCAA updated its policy on transgender swimmers in women's sports. Meanwhile, Penn is standing behind Thomas – as are an undetermined number of her team members, who provided an unsigned statement to ESPN Tuesday. 

"We want to express our full support for Lia in her transition," the statement read. "We value her as a person, teammate, and friend."

Thomas is set to compete in the NCAA championships next month. 

Tuberville, who used to coach girls' high school basketball before he was the head football coach at Auburn University, lambasted the NCAA for continuing to allow Thomas to compete. 

"The NCAA caved to the progressive agenda for fear of backlash and getting canceled, and that's not what our country is about," Tuberville said. "They said their decision is in the interest of fairness. But let me be clear: By including biological males in women's athletics fairness is impossible. The fight to protect Title IX will continue."

Fox News' Ryan Gaydos contributed to this report.