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Texas Court Halts Investigation of Parents Over Care for Transgender Youth

HOUSTON — A state court in Texas on Wednesday temporarily halted the child abuse investigation of a family providing medical treatment for its …

Texas Court Halts Investigation of Parents Over Care for Transgender Youth
03.03.2022 06:55
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HOUSTON — A state court in Texas on Wednesday temporarily halted the child abuse investigation of a family providing medical treatment for its transgender 16-year-old, but allowed other investigations to continue under a contentious policy initiated last week by Gov. Greg Abbott.

Soon after, President Biden issued his first comments on the Texas policy, calling it “a cynical and dangerous campaign targeting transgender children and their parents.” He said he had directed the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to take steps “to keep transgender children in Texas and their families safe — putting the state of Texas on notice that their discriminatory actions put children’s lives at risk.”

The intervention by the court in Austin, the state capital, came in response to a lawsuit filed on Tuesday by the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas and Lambda Legal on behalf of the parents of a transgender child who were being investigated for abuse by the Department of Family and Protective Services.

That inquiry immediately followed a directive by Mr. Abbott to conduct child abuse investigations when medically accepted treatments — including hormones or puberty-suppressing drugs, which doctors describe as gender-affirming care — are prescribed to transgender adolescents.

But the ruling on Wednesday, a temporary restraining order by Judge Amy Clark Meachum, fell short of what the groups had asked the court to do: stop such child abuse investigations altogether. They argued that the governor’s directive and the investigations by the agency broadly violated the Texas Constitution and the constitutional rights of transgender youth, as well as of their parents, and were improperly issued under state law.

Transgender Teens’ Access to Medical Care

The number of young people seeking gender-affirming treatment is on the rise. Learn more about the subject:

  • The Hurdles They Face: Discrimination and systemic barriers often prevent young transgender people from reaching the care they need.
  • Puberty Blockers: The drugs, often used to treat transgender teens, suppress puberty by halting the production of estrogen or testosterone.
  • Therapy Before Hormones? Clinicians are divided over the need for teens to undergo mental health screenings before undergoing treatment.

The court is set to consider those arguments on March 11 and will decide whether to block the governor’s directive statewide, which would stop all related investigations or prosecutions.

Mr. Abbott’s directive followed an opinion by the state attorney general, Ken Paxton, that certain medical treatments for transgender children could be considered child abuse. The moves have had an immediate and chilling effect on the families of transgender youth in Texas, forcing some to consider halting recommended courses of medical treatment or even to leave the state. Investigations into other families have already begun, lawyers said.

The court’s ruling applied only to the family that brought the suit — identified as John and Jane Doe, the parents, and Mary Doe, their daughter — and a licensed psychologist in Houston, Dr. Megan Mooney, who is required to report suspected child abuse under Texas law. Dr. Mooney has a practice that includes transgender patients.

The court found that the family would “suffer irreparable injury” unless the state was immediately restrained from enforcing the governor’s directive. Jane Doe, an employee of the family protective agency, was placed on administrative leave after Mr. Abbott’s order. And investigators have already interviewed the family at home and sought medical records related to Mary.

The family members, Judge Meachum wrote, “face the imminent and ongoing deprivation of their constitutional rights, the potential loss of necessary medical care, and the stigma attached to being the subject of an unfounded child abuse investigation.” She blocked the state from taking any adverse employment action against Ms. Doe.

And in the case of Dr. Mooney, the judge wrote that, if she followed the governor’s directive, she would have been forced to choose between criminal prosecution for not reporting abuse, or potential civil liability for not treating patients “in accordance with professional standards and loss of licensure for failing to follow her professional ethics.”

Though the ruling was limited, lawyers for the plaintiffs argued that the message had been clear: The state’s investigation had “put the Doe family at incredible harm,” said Karen Loewy, senior counsel for Lambda Legal. “It would be pretty unconscionable for the agency to continue investigations when that’s the assessment,” she added.

Ms. Loewy said she thought the state was unlikely to appeal the temporary restraining order given its limited scope. “It would be extraordinary, and incredibly punitive for the state to appeal when at the moment the only relief is to the parties,” she said in an interview on Wednesday evening.

Soon after, the state, represented by the attorney general’s office, appealed the ruling.

A spokeswoman for the governor did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

But in a call with reporters earlier on Wednesday, the top strategist for Mr. Abbott’s re-election campaign, David Carney, said that being against medical treatment for transgender children, and treating it as child abuse, was a “winning issue” for the governor. Mr. Abbott is running for a third term in November.

“That is a 75 to 80 percent winner,” Mr. Carney said. “This is why the Democrats across the country are out of touch.”

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