March 21 (Reuters) – A Texas appeals court on Monday reinstated a temporary injunction prohibiting the state from investigating parents who provide their transgender children certain medical care that Governor Greg Abbott has branded “child abuse.”
The Texas Third Court of Appeals ruling came in a lawsuit the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Lambda Legal filed on behalf of a 16-year-old transgender girl, her parents and her licensed therapist challenging a directive issued by Abbott last month.
The latest decision affirmed the rulings of a lower-court judge, who first blocked any further investigation of the family and their psychologist, then issued a broader injunction on March 11 barring enforcement of Abbott’s directive statewide while the case remained under judicial review.
The judge, Amy Clark Meachum, ruled that plaintiffs in the case faced “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.”
Meachum also held that Abbott, a Republican, had exceeded his authority in his Feb. 22 directive, which was based on a non-binding legal opinion issued earlier by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, also a Republican.
The state appealed Meachum’s order on an accelerated basis, asserting the injunction was thus automatically frozen, a position disputed by the ACLU and Lambda Legal.
Paxton declared the state free to enforce Abbott’s policy, which required the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) to investigate any reported instances of “gender-transitioning procedures” performed on minors and classified those procedures as “child abuse under existing Texas law.”
It also required doctors, nurses and teachers to report such treatments or face criminal penalties. The DFPS acknowledged last week that it had opened nine child welfare inquiries under Abbott’s policy.
In its three-page decision on Monday, the appeals court, sided against Abbott, explicitly blocking further enforcement of his directive again until the litigation is resolved.
The child identified in the lawsuit only as “Mary Doe, a minor,” has taken puberty-delaying medications and hormone therapy. Her mother is an employee of the DFPS and was put on paid administrative leave after asking what Abbott’s directive would mean for her family.
The lawsuit, brought in the Texas capital Austin, said no other state treats gender-affirming medical care as a form of child abuse. And there is wide agreement among mainstream medical and mental health professionals that gender-affirming care saves lives by reducing the risk of depression and suicide.
Still, conservative politicians in dozens of states have sought to criminalize the provision of medical treatments used to help young people transition away from the gender they were assigned at birth.
Critics of such proposals have accused Republicans of seizing on issues surrounding gender identity as a wedge issue for political gain.
On Monday, Indiana’s Republican governor, Eric Holcomb, vetoed a Republican-backed bill passed by state lawmakers to ban transgender girls from participating in girls’ sports in schools.
Abbott’s directive was issued one week before the March gubernatorial primary in which he faced challenges from fellow Republicans seeking to cast him as insufficiently conservative. Abbott won the Republican nomination to a third term in that race and will face Democrat Beto O’Rourke in the November general election.
(Reporting by Maria Caspani in New York; Additional reporting and writing by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Leslie Adler, Robert Birsel)