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Judge partially blocks Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s order to treat gender-affirming care as child abuse

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) speaks during a primary election night event on March 1 in Corpus Christi, Tex. (Eric Gay/AP)
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A Texas judge on Wednesday partially blocked enforcement of Gov. Greg Abbott’s order to treat gender-affirming care as child abuse, court documents show.

The decision by Judge Amy Clark Meachum stems from a lawsuit filed on Tuesday by the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Texas and Lambda Legal, the LGBTQ legal advocacy group. The lawsuit seeks to block a statewide directive ordering the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFSP) to investigate parents who allow their children to medically transition genders for possible crimes.

Meachum’s ruling grants a temporary restraining order to the plaintiffs represented in the case, but it does not prevent Texas from investigating other parents. The judge will consider that question in an additional hearing on March 11.

Within hours of the ruling, the state appealed the decision in what Lambda Legal counsel Omar Gonzalez-Pagan called a “very unusual, cruel and frankly, extraordinary move.”

“They’re seeking an appeal for a temporary restraining order that applies only to four plaintiffs,” Gonzalez-Pagan said. “It is a cruel and punitive zealousness with which the Texas governor and attorney general are proceeding to persecute transgender youth and their families. It is reprehensible and should really cause alarm for everybody.”

The offices of the state’s attorney general and the governor did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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According to the lawsuit, officials had begun investigating parents of transgender kids one week after Abbott (R) directed the state’s health agencies to handle certain gender-affirming treatments as crimes.

In his letter, the governor noted that the Office of the Attorney General, Ken Paxton, 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.

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Among the families the department had began probing, the lawsuit shows, was a 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.

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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.”

After hearing the attorneys’ arguments on Wednesday, Meachum found that the plaintiffs “will suffer irreparable injury unless Defendants are immediately restrained from enforcing the Governor’s letter and the DFPS statement,” according to the court order.

By enforcing the directive, the document read, the plaintiffs would 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.” Mooney would be subjected to immediate criminal prosecution, as stipulated in Abbott’s letter.

Abbott’s directive, however, 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.

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Much like the state’s strict abortion ban, the order empowers private citizens in its enforcement — mostly relying on ordinary Texans to report suspected violations. Yet it requires groups — such as teachers and doctors — who are already forced to report what they say to be child abuse, to do so.

President Biden on Wednesday decried Abbott’s actions as “government overreach at its worst” — announcing that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will take new actions to help transgender youth in Texas and their families.

“Children, their parents, and their doctors should have the freedom to make the medical decisions that are best for each young person — without politicians getting the way,” Biden said in a statement.

Still, while the case’s attorneys were able to secure — at least momentarily — protection from the order for their clients, they fear the ramifications the governor’s push could have for families across the state and across the country.

“They’re using the lives of vulnerable youth in their state as a political football,” Gonzalez-Pagan said. “Every family in Texas right now with a transgender youth that they support and affirm is living in fear. That’s unlawful and we will continue to fight their actions.”