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ACLU files lawsuit over Texas governor’s order to treat gender-affirming care for kids as child abuse

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) speaks during a campaign event on Feb. 23 in Houston. (Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

A Texas family and a psychologist filed a legal challenge Tuesday, asking a district court to block an order that directed state officials to investigate families for child abuse if they allow their children to medically transition genders.

In a letter sent last week to state health agencies, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) noted that the Office of the Attorney General had determined that providing medical treatments such as puberty blockers and hormone therapy could “legally constitute child abuse” under Texas law.

“I hereby direct your agency to conduct a prompt and thorough investigation of any reported instances of these abusive procedures in the State of Texas,” Abbott wrote to the commissioner of Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.

According to the suit filed Tuesday, the department has begun investigating families — including one mother who works for the department responsible for the investigations. According to documents filed in Travis County district court, Jane Doe is an employee of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. Her 16-year-old daughter, Mary Doe, is transgender and has been receiving medical care from the same pediatrician for most of her life. After her pediatrician diagnosed her with gender dysphoria, she has received treatments that include puberty blockers and hormone therapy to initiate a female puberty.

The day after Abbott issued his order, Jane Doe was placed on leave from the Department of Family and Protective Services, court documents say. Two days later, a child protective services investigator visited the family’s home, court documents say, and interviewed both parents. They also interviewed Mary Doe separately from her parents.

The family is now living in “constant fear,” court documents say. Jane Doe is unable to sleep, and Mary, who is typically joyful, is now moody, stressed and overwhelmed.

“Mary has been traumatized by the prospect that she could be separated from her parents and could lose access to the medical treatment that has enabled her to thrive,” court documents say.

The Texas legislature considered two bills last year that would have banned gender-confirmation surgery, hormone therapy and puberty suppression treatments for Texas’s transgender children, but both died in the House. Afterward, Abbott said on a radio show that he had a “solution” to what he described as the “problem” of medical treatment for minors with gender dysphoria. His office later asked the Department of Family and Protective Services to determine whether “genital mutilation of a child for the purposes of gender transitioning through reassignment surgery constitutes child abuse.” After department officials said it could count as child abuse, state Rep. Matt Krause (R) asked the attorney general to decide whether other medical treatments for transgender children also count as child abuse. In the legal opinion Attorney General Ken Paxton issued last month, Paxton said they do.

The plaintiffs, who are represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, Lambda Legal and the law firm Baker Botts, argue that Abbott has circumvented the legislative process in an “attempt to legislate by press release.”

Megan A. Mooney, a Houston-based psychologist who has worked for two decades with families and children, is also a plaintiff. Many of her clients are transgender and nonbinary children. The governor’s directive puts her in “an untenable situation,” court documents say. If she does not report her clients, she could lose her license or face civil and criminal penalties. If she does report them, court documents say, “she faces even more damaging personal and professional consequences.”

According to the lawsuit, Mooney would be violating her professional standards of ethics and inflict serious harm and trauma on her clients.

“Many clients that she works with have already experienced trauma, and reporting them to DFPS simply for receiving gender-affirming care from a licensed medical provider would cause immense and irreversible harm by subjecting them to an investigation and possible family separation,” court documents say. “Being subject to an investigation would dramatically worsen the mental health outcomes of her clients, and could worsen the already tragic rate of suicide among transgender youth.”

The order does not change Texas law. While the state’s child welfare agency is apparently investigating claims, the Dallas Morning News reported last week that some county and district attorneys have said they will not enforce the opinion.

The ACLU also filed a lawsuit last year after Arkansas passed a law banning physicians from providing transition-related care to transgender youths. A federal court issued a bench decision last July blocking the law before it could take effect.

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