AUSTIN (KXAN) — The White House slammed actions that would potentially open families of transgender children to child abuse investigations.
A spokesperson for the Biden administration sent along a statement Wednesday afternoon from Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House principal deputy press secretary. She denounced the legal opinion issued last week by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton that would classify health care options for transgender children as “child abuse.”
“The Texas Attorney General’s attack on loving parents who seek medical care for their transgender children is dangerous to the health of kids in Texas and part of much larger trend of conservative officials cynically attacking LGBTQI+ youth to score political points,” Jean-Pierre said. “Families should have the right to seek health care that will enable young people to live healthy and fulfilled lives.”
The legal opinion from Paxton spurred Gov. Greg Abbott to send a letter Tuesday to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) and other state agencies. He directed DFPS in particular “to conduct prompt and thorough investigations of any reported instances of Texas children being subjected to abusive gender-transitioning procedures.” His letter stated doctors and nurses could face punishments for failing to report such care and mentioned DFPS should look into parents who pursue it for their kids.
Paxton’s opinion is not law — it’s simply his written interpretation of existing law. However, legal experts told KXAN it can have a persuasive effect on agencies to abide by that reading. A spokesperson for DFPS said the agency will follow the attorney general’s opinion after receiving the governor’s directive. There are currently no pending child abuse investigations, though, involving gender-affirming care, the spokesperson noted.
Five district attorneys in Texas, including José Garza of Travis County, put out a collective statement Wednesday evening calling Paxton and Abbott’s directives “life-threatening.” Garza — along with John Creuzot of Dallas County, Joe Gonzalez of Bexar County, Mark Gonzalez of Nueces County and Brian Middleton of Fort Bend County — suggested they’ll offer support to families with transgender children.
“We want to assure our residents with transgender children that they are safe to continue seeking the care their children need,” the district attorneys’ statement read. “We will not allow the Governor and Attorney General to disregard Texan children’s lives in order to score political points.”
Paxton issued his 13-page opinion on Feb. 18 after Texas Rep. Matt Krause, a Republican now running for Tarrant County district attorney, requested it. Krause wrote on Twitter Monday, “It took 179 days, but I finally received a response to my AG opinion request from last August. The Attorney General has concluded that gender modification procedures, including hormone treatments, are considered child abuse under Texas law.”
The conservative Texas Freedom Caucus also celebrated the release of the directives. State Rep. Matt Schaefer, a Tyler Republican who’s the caucus vice chair, called for a special legislative session to now happen to further codify enforcement.
“We can begin immediately by having the Texas Medical Board investigate and sanction doctors who perform these types of evil procedures on children or prescribe drugs with the same effect,” Schaefer said. “We are not going [to] back down on this — this is a hill we are ready to die on.”
Other Democratic leaders and LGBTQ advocacy groups in Texas quickly pounced to denounce the latest actions from Abbott and Paxton.
Greg Casar, the Austin Congressional candidate, wrote on Twitter, “Greg Abbott is blatantly attacking trans kids and their parents.” Meanwhile, Beto O’Rourke, a Democratic candidate for governor, accused Abbott of “bullying children” with his directive. O’Rourke also tweeted a message of support to LGBTQ youth Wednesday when he wrote, “To every trans kid in Texas: You’re amazing. I’m proud of you.”
The chair of the Democratic National Committee, Jaime Harrison, released a statement Wednesday evening slamming Abbott and criticizing broader efforts to enact restrictions on transgender young people.
“Republican governors and legislators have targeted innocent children solely aiming to exist as their truest selves,” Harrison said. “Medical experts have reaffirmed the reality that gender-affirming care saves lives. But instead, Governor Abbott is cynically using Texas children as a political weapon and perpetuating senseless hatred towards the transgender and gender non-conforming community.”
Adm. Rachel Levine, the assistant secretary for health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and a transgender woman, also issued a statement Wednesday.
“Gender affirming care for transgender youth is essential and can be life-saving,” Levine wrote. “Our nation’s leading pediatricians support evidence-based, gender affirming care for transgender young people. HHS stands with transgender youth and their medical providers.”