Judge temporarily blocks Texas investigating sterilization of gender-confused kids as child abuse

Eight-year-old student Zachary Lanterman, who is homeschooled, works on classwork at the computer at the Pride School in Atlanta, Georgia, on December 7, 2016.
Eight-year-old student Zachary Lanterman, who is homeschooled, works on classwork at the computer at the Pride School in Atlanta, Georgia, on December 7, 2016. | Reuters/Tami Chappell

A judge has temporarily blocked Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s directive for the state's Department of Family and Protective Services to investigate parents who allow their child to be sterilized through the use of puberty blockers or genital mutilation surgeries. 

District Judge Amy Clark Meachum ruled Friday that the statewide injunction will remain in effect until “this court, and potentially the Court of Appeals, and the Supreme Court of Texas” hear a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Texas and Lambda Legal in behalf of two parents and their 16-year-old child who identifies as transgender, The Texas Tribune reported.

Meachum said there is a “substantial likelihood” that lawyers for the ACLU and Lambda Legal will prevail in getting Abbott’s directive for such investigations permanently overturned, calling his actions “beyond the scope of his duty and unconstitutional.”

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Abbott issued a directive on Feb. 22 stating that the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services is "responsible for protecting children from abuse," and directed the agency to "conduct a prompt and thorough investigation of any reported instances of these abusive procedures" in the state. 

The governor's letter was issued in response to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton's determination that so-called "sex-change" procedures — experimental and irreversible puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones and genital mutilation, including elective mastectomies and castration — "constitute child abuse under existing Texas law." 

Such elective procedures are touted as safe for children to undergo as part of the transition process to physically look more like the opposite sex or another identity.

After the governor's directive was issued, state authorities opened nine investigations into parents who allowed their underage children to undergo medicalized gender transitions, according to the Tribune said.

In a formal but non-abiding opinion last month, Paxton said that certain sex-change procedures and treatments “can legally constitute child abuse under several provisions of chapter 261 of the Texas Family Code.”

Such procedures include castration, the removal of healthy body parts, as well as the prescription of experimental puberty-blocking drugs, among others. “Beyond the obvious harm of permanently sterilizing a child, these procedures and treatments can cause side effects and harms beyond permanent infertility,” he stated.

“The medical evidence does not demonstrate that children and adolescents benefit from engaging in these irreversible sterilization procedures.”

Paxton added that allowing such invasive procedures in an attempt to make a child appear more like the opposite sex, like removing private parts, “would deprive the child of the fundamental right to procreate, which supports a finding of child abuse under the Family Code.”

“Because children are legally incompetent to consent to sterilization, procedures and treatments that result in a child’s sterilization are unauthorized and infringe on the child’s fundamental right to procreate,” Paxton continued.

Last August, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services Commissioner Jamie Masters published a letter asserting that “genital mutilation of a child through reassignment surgery is child abuse, subject to all rules and procedures pertaining to child abuse.”

Masters’ letter came after Abbott requested that the agency “issue a determination of whether genital mutilation of a child for purposes of gender transitioning through reassignment surgery constitutes child abuse.”

Earlier this month, the Houston-based Texas Children’s Hospital, the largest pediatric hospital in the United States, announced that it would no longer provide puberty blockers to children after Paxton wrote the opinion.

HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra released a statement earlier this month, announcing he had directed his team “to evaluate the tools at our disposal to protect trans and gender diverse youth in Texas, and today I am announcing several steps we can take to protect them.”

“HHS will take immediate action if needed,” Becerra said. “Any individual or family in Texas who is being targeted by a child welfare investigation because of this discriminatory gubernatorial order is encouraged to contact our Office for Civil Rights to report their experience.”

However, the American College of Pediatricians, an association of physicians and healthcare professionals “dedicated to the health and well-being of children,” has long voiced its opposition to prescribing puberty-blocking drugs for children suffering from gender dysphoria. 

“There is not a single long-term study to demonstrate the safety or efficacy of puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones and surgeries for transgender-believing youth,” the association said in an online statement. “This means that youth transition is experimental, and therefore, parents cannot provide informed consent, nor can minors provide assent for these interventions. Moreover, the best long-term evidence we have among adults shows that medical intervention fails to reduce suicide.”

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