LGBTQ Legal Issues

Treatments for transgender youths are child abuse, Texas AG opinion says; governor pledges probes

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Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott directed the state’s child protective agency Tuesday to investigate parents who provide medical treatments to their transgender children.

Abbott acted after Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton released a Feb. 18 opinion saying treatment such as puberty-suppressing drugs, hormones and sterilization can constitute child abuse.

The New York Times, the Washington Post and KERA News are among the publications with coverage.

Abbott’s directive was in a Feb. 22 letter to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, with copies to the Texas Medical Board and other agencies.

The letter said Texas law imposes criminal penalties when professionals who have contact with children—including doctors, nurse and teachers—fail to report child abuse. There are similar reporting requirements and criminal penalties for members of the general public who fail to report abuse, Abbott wrote.

The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services has a duty to investigate “abusive gender-transitioning procedures,” as do agencies that license facilities where such treatments may happen, Abbott said.

Some local prosecutors have said they would not bring criminal charges in such cases.

“My office won’t be participating in this political game,” wrote Harris County Attorney Christian D. Menefee on Twitter.

Austin, Texas, law firm Jorgeson Pittman tweeted an offer of help to families targeted by the law.

“If any parent in Texas faces a politically motivated lawsuit due to following medical advice for their child who is diagnosed with gender dysphoria, we will help ensure that these types of ‘opinions’ are fully discredited in a court of law,” the firm tweeted.

The New York Times wrote that Abbott’s attempt to criminalize medical care for transgender youths “is a new front in a broadening political drive to deny treatments that help align the adolescents’ bodies with their gender identities.”

Although bills to criminalize the medical care have been introduced in at least 21 states, only one, in Arkansas, became law, according to the New York Times. That law bans the use of puberty blockers and hormones on adolescents and bans insurance coverage for the treatments. U.S. District Judge James M. Moody Jr. of Little Rock, Arkansas, stayed enforcement of the law in July during litigation by the American Civil Liberties Union, according to NPR.

According to the Washington Post, the American Academy of Pediatrics and other major medical associations have supported the use of gender-affirming care for transgender children, although doctors generally recommend that children reach puberty before beginning puberty blockers or hormone treatments.

The ACLU of Texas commented on the Texas developments in a Feb. 23 press release.

“Paxton’s opinion is not legally binding, and it remains up to the courts to interpret Texas laws and the Constitution,” the statement said. “Moreover, DFPS cannot remove any child from their parents or guardians without a court order. No court here in Texas or anywhere in the country has ever found that gender-affirming care can be considered child abuse.”

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