Court forbids the state from investigating family for child abuse under new Texas directive
Parents scored a narrow victory Wednesday in a lawsuit challenging a new state policy directing child-protection officials to investigate whether transgender youths receiving hormone blockers and other treatments are being subjected to child abuse.
A Texas judge granted a request by parents of a 16-year-old transgender girl to temporarily forbid the state from conducting an investigation into whether helping their daughter obtain such medical treatments constituted child abuse.
The parents, who brought the case under pseudonyms to protect their privacy, allege the state already is investigating them after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued a directive last week outlining the new policy. The parents said their daughter was receiving medical treatment for gender dysphoria. Their child’s birth certificate said she was male, but she now identifies as female and has been receiving medication to delay the onset of puberty among other effects.
Judge Amy Clark Meachum, a state civil court judge in Austin, in a written order said she believed the plaintiffs would suffer irreparable harm unless the state were forbidden from investigating them while the litigation proceeds. The parents and their child “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 wrote. The judge’s order applies only to the specific plaintiffs in the case. The judge said she would hold a hearing next week to consider a statewide injunction.
“This is a critical victory and important first step in stopping these egregious and illegal actions from Texas officials,” said Chase Strangio, a lawyer at the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed the lawsuit along with Lambda Legal.
Representatives of the Texas governor and attorney general didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment Wednesday evening.
At an emergency hearing Wednesday morning, Paul Castillo, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said they are suffering immediate, irreparable harm, including the prospect of disruptions in medical treatment and that their family could be separated.
Ryan Kercher, a lawyer representing the state, said it isn’t investigating families just for having transgender children receiving care but must investigate any reports of an instance of such treatments being used to harm a child, as they would instances of anything else being used to harm a child.
Mr. Abbott, a Republican, announced the policy after state Attorney General Ken Paxton, also a Republican, issued an opinion Feb. 18 saying that care for transgender children, including the prescription of puberty blockers, could legally be considered abusive on the grounds that it could cause physical and emotional harm to children.
The mother in the case is an employee of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services and was placed on leave after the governor’s directive was issued, according to the lawsuit. The judge said she also faces the immediate potential harm of losing her job.
The suit argues the governor is exceeding his powers and circumventing the will of state lawmakers after a bill designating gender-transition treatments as child abuse failed during the 2021 legislative session. The suit also argues it interferes with parents’ constitutional rights in Texas to care for their children.
Mr. Abbott’s directive said Texas law required licensed professionals who have contact with children, including doctors, teachers and nurses, as well as the general public, to report gender-transitioning procedures as abuse.
Another plaintiff in the lawsuit, Megan Mooney, a psychologist, said she could be subject to civil or criminal penalties under the new directive for providing medical treatment to transgender patients. Judge Meachum wrote in her order that Dr. Mooney also faced immediate potential harm from the governor’s directive because if she complied with it she could face civil suits by patients and potentially lose her license for failing to follow her professional ethics.
Ricardo Martinez, CEO of Equality Texas, an LGBT advocacy group, said at a news conference outside the courthouse on Wednesday afternoon that he is now aware of at least 15 families with transgender children ranging from ages 8 to 16 who have been contacted by state authorities in recent days. They have been told anonymous complaints were made against them, Mr. Martinez said.
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