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Texas officials say gender transition care for children is ‘child abuse,’ but prosecutors push back

Parting from advice from major medical associations, Texas officials seek to criminalize gender-affirming health care for minors on the shaky grounds that it violates their “right to procreation.”

AUSTIN, Texas (CN) — After Texas’ attorney general declared gender confirmation procedures, such as hormone blockers and sex reassignment surgery, “child abuse” last Friday, the state’s governor asked Texans Wednesday to report parents of trans children to authorities if they suspect they are giving their children gender-affirming health care.

District and county attorneys across the state have rebuked the state officials, calling the orders “part of a continued onslaught on personal freedoms.”

In a 13-page opinion issued Feb. 18, Texas Attorney General Paxton wrote that hormone blockers can cause sterilization, which interferes with the child’s “fundamental right to procreation” under the Fourteenth Amendment, and that some gender reassignment surgeries could constitute “genital mutilation,” a criminal act.

Paxton also argued that gender-affirming hormonal and surgical procedures do not improve rates of suicide for trans youth and compared gender-affirming procedures to the opioid epidemic on the basis that the “purported remedies” could “result in tragic harms.”

Following Paxton’s proclamation, Texas Governor Greg Abbott sent a letter to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) Tuesday directing the agency to investigate all reported instances of “so-called ‘sex change’ procedures.”

Abbott noted that “licensed professionals” and “members of the general public” are required to report child abuse, and notes there are “criminal penalties” for failing to report.

The moves come almost a year after Abbott asked the DFPS commissioner to consider whether sex reassignment surgery — a costly procedure rarely performed on minors — counted as child abuse. Abbott got the answer he was looking for.

This week’s declarations may seem repetitive in light of last year’s letter from DFPS, but Abbott and Paxton are likely attempting to shore up conservative support in the face of the Republican primary election on March 1, where the embattled Paxton faces stiff competition from George P. Bush and Abbott confronts his own challengers.

During the last state legislative session, the Texas Senate approved a bill that redefined “child abuse” to include the administration or supply of puberty blockers, hormone replacement therapy and surgeries “for the purpose of gender transitioning or gender reassignment,” imposing felony criminal penalties for the bill’s violation.

The bill floundered in the House, however, and was never passed.

Claims that trans children’s transition-related health care amount to “child abuse” have been challenged by major medical associations, including the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Psychological Association.

“Transgender children, like all children, have the best chance to thrive when they are supported and can obtain the health care they need. Studies suggest that improved body satisfaction and self-esteem following the receipt of gender-affirming care is protective against poorer mental health and supports healthy relationships with parents and peers,” wrote James Madara, CEO of the American Medical Association, in an open letter to the National Governors Association. “Studies also demonstrate dramatic reductions in suicide attempts, as well as decreased rates of depression and anxiety.”

According to a survey by the Trevor Project, a nonprofit dedicated to preventing suicide among LGBTQ youth, one in five trans and nonbinary youth attempted suicide in 2020.

The district attorneys for Dallas County, Austin’s Travis County, San Antonio’s Bexar County, Nueces County and Fort Bend County co-signed a letter saying they “will not irrationally and unjustifiably interfere with medical decisions made between children, their parents, and their medical physicians.”

“As the lawyer who represents DFPS in civil child abuse cases in Harris County [seated in Houston], I can tell you my office won’t be participating in this political game,” announced Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee on Tuesday. El Paso County Attorney Jo Anne Bernal echoed this sentiment in a statement Thursday.

The governor and attorney general have not yet publicly responded to the pushback from local prosecutors.

The Texas politicians’ actions aren’t the only ways that trans youths’ rights have been challenged across the southern U.S. this month.

A Florida school board defended its policy on trans students’ bathroom access, which requires students to use the bathrooms corresponding to their reported biological sex, before the 11th Circuit Tuesday. That same day, Alabama approved a law that would enshrine a similar policy into law; a trans Indiana man took his school to federal court over its bathroom use rules.

On Thursday, Georgia’s senate approved a law barring trans students from participating on the sports team corresponding to their gender identity. Texas passed its own bill targeting trans student-athletes last October.

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