Republican Gov. Greg Abbott is good at delivering firm edicts on lots of things. But a growing number of Texans are wondering whether the edicts themselves are always good, or necessary. And some of those concerns often wind up challenged in suits before judges.
A recent example was his decree that parents of transgender kids who give them gender-affirming medical help on the advice of a physician should be investigated by the state for possible child abuse.
Abbott’s order came Feb. 22, one day after Republican Atty. Gen. Ken Paxton issued a written opinion that defined gender-affirming care as child abuse under state law.
Abbott’s order came just a week before the March 1 primary elections, after Abbott’s top two opponents had been relentlessly hammering him for months on issues from the party’s right wing.
During last year’s legislative sessions, several bills were considered to define gender-affirming care as child abuse. Some efforts passed the Senate, but failed to get House approval.
The Texas Medical Association, Texas Pediatric Society and the Texas Academy of Family Physicians had opposed last year’s legislative efforts to criminalize gender-affirming care.
Such care includes pills to delay puberty, which doctors say are medication which delays the beginning of physical changes, so that transgender people have more time to consider more permanent options.
Treatments that include permanent body changes usually aren’t recommended until after age 16, and surgery is usually delayed until after age 18.
Less than two weeks after Abbott avoided a runoff and coasted to an outright win with about two thirds of the vote, the lawsuit part reached a judge’s courtroom.
An LGBTQ group lawyer argued that Abbott’s order to treat gender-affirming medical care as child abuse was a danger to lives and loving families, and asked Austin state District Judge Amy Clark Meachum, a Democrat, to enjoin the governor’s order as “vast overreach” and an abuse of power.
Without the court’s intervention, the state’s child care agency would be forced to continue with unprecedented, intrusive and improper child-abuse investigations into families with transgender children, argued Paul Castillo, an attorney with Lamda Legal, an LGBTQ legal advocacy group.
The injunction was being sought by parents identified as Jane and John Doe, who are being investigated for child abuse in connection with providing gender-affirming care to their 16-year-old.
Assistant Attorney General Courtney Corbello argued for the state that no injunction should be issued. The hearing should not have been held because Meachum had yet to rule on pending motions, including the state’s contention that she lacked the jurisdiction to even hear the case.
Corbello also said the complaining family did not have standing to sue, because their complaint is based on potential rather than actual harm. She argued that it is too early in the process to issue a statewide injunction against the governor’s order.
The first witness called by lawyers for the family was Randa Mulanax, an investigatory supervisor for the Texas Department of Child Protective Services. She had resigned that week over the gender care investigations.
“It’s a very stressful job overall,” Mulanax said. “(But) I have always felt that at the end of the day, the department has the children’s best interest at heart, and the family’s best interest at heart. But I no longer feel that way with this order.”
Judge Meachum later that Friday evening issued a temporary statewide injunction and ordered the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services to halt any investigations, or refer any cases for prosecution, based solely on providing gender-affirming care.
Attorney General Paxton filed an appeal within an hour of Meachum’s order, writing on Twitter that “This fight will continue up to the Supreme Court.”
Abbott’s Democratic opponent in November, Beto O’Rourke, interviewed on Saturday as part of the South By Southwest festival, blasted Abbott’s edict. He called Abbott a “thug” and an “authoritarian” for his order calling for investigation for child abuse of those providing gender-affirming medical care for transgender young people.
“He’s targeting transgender kids and turning in their parents,” O’Rourke said. “If these investigations are successful, not only is that transgender child taken from the custody of that parent, but so is every other child in the house. That’s what this guy is doing.”
Longtime Democratic State Rep. Donna Howard of Austin also had nothing laudatory to say about Abbott’s order.
“That just tells me that Abbott and his team do not give a damn about kids,” Howard, a former nurse, wrote on Twitter. “Because if you can put these kids above cases of children who are going through real, authentic, terrible neglect and abuse, you don’t care about kids at all – ftrans or not.
“This is purely political,” Howard said.