AUSTIN (Nexstar) — On Tuesday, the governor directed the Department of Family Protective Services to investigate reports of “gender transitioning procedures for minors.”
This comes after Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issued an opinion earlier Tuesday, stating gender-affirming procedures including the administration of puberty-blocking drugs, doses of testosterone or estrogen and reassignment surgeries qualify as child abuse under Texas Family Code section 261.
That section defines abuse, in part, as “mental or emotional injury to a child that results in an observable and material impairment in the child’s growth, development, or psychological functioning.” Paxton said these procedures fall under this definition.
Houston County Attorney Christian Menefee, whose office represents DFPS in child abuse cases in Houston, said he will not be taking any of these investigations on.
“I think it is a misrepresentation of Texas law,” Menefee said Wednesday. “It is designed to put fear in the hearts of parents, of trans kids, of doctors, of school counselors of teachers, to make them fearful that if they allow gender-affirming health care for trans kids.”
He said he does not believe parents seeking gender-affirming care is abuse and said it doesn’t compare to other cases of abuse he’s fought before.
“These are real-life issues that are affecting kids throughout the state who have either been physically abused or emotionally abused or being extremely neglected in a way that makes it such that those parents should not be involved in the process anymore,” Menefee said.
“This is not a situation where you have kids that are being intentionally harmed by their parents or by their medical providers. These are situations where you have trans kids who are receiving gender-affirming health care with their parents’ consent, after consultation with a doctor or medical professional,” Menefee continued.
In Paxton’s opinion, he explains he came to the conclusion it constitutes child abuse because of the side effects it can have, beyond initial mental and physical harm of the procedure itself.
“Beyond the obvious harm of permanently sterilizing a child, these procedures and treatments can cause side effects and harms beyond permanent infertility, including serious mental health effects, venous thrombosis/thromboembolism, increased risk of cardiovascular disease, weight gain and sleep apnea,” part of the opinion reads.
But Doctors Who Care, a nonprofit based in Houston, points to the detriments of avoiding of these treatments for trans youth.
“We’re talking about kids who disproportionately suffer from mental health challenges. They’re at higher risk for suicide,” executive director Areana Quiñones said Wednesday.
“This is why it’s important that again, the physician is practicing with a team of providers, and providing this type of compassionate care for these young people and in partnership for the most part with their families, so that we can address a lot of these mental health challenges and avoid the risk of having them die by suicide,” she explained.
Quiñones also said surgeries are not performed on anyone under 18 in Texas.
“Surgical procedure is not going to happen until a person is of legal age … as far as I know, it hasn’t happened to anyone under the age of 18,” Quiñones said.
The decision to prescribe puberty blockers also takes place over months, sometimes years. Kimberly Shappley is afraid the messaging this directive will have on kids like her daughter, Kai.
“When the the psychiatrist, the therapists, counselors, the doctors, the parents, the child, when it’s all in agreeance, that it’s time to start on things such as blockers, I don’t know how someone else can come in and say not to do that,” Shapley said.
“As a parent, I don’t want to have to worry that someone’s going to show up at my door,” Shappley said.
She said even if attorneys don’t take up cases involving abuse with gender-affirming care, the investigation from DFPS would still be traumatic.
“By the time it gets to the point where the attorney is saying that they won’t pursue the charges, the parents and the kids have already been through hell,” she explained.
Menefee is worried about the same thing.
“Even before that legal proceeding starts, the investigation itself is going to do enough harm. And that’s to say nothing of those instances where there is an investigation, but you have families who are still terrified of those investigations,” he said.
Menefee hopes other attorneys follow his lead.
“I hope that other civil lawyers who are government lawyers for counties throughout the state of Texas will follow that lead and ensure that we don’t allow the attorney general and his politicized misinterpretation of law,” he said.
Wednesday evening, the district attorneys in Dallas, Travis, Nueces, Bexar and Fort Bend Counties put out a statement, stating they, “will not irrationally and unjustifiably interfere with medical decisions made between children, their parents, and their medical physicians.”
Shappley said the messaging of the directive has a negative impact on these kids, and their families.
“This isn’t new. We’ve been doing this over six years, ever since the bathroom bill rhetoric started, the parents have been the ones that everyone wants to hate and blame. I’m scared. I am a good parent, I’m following the science and following the data. And following the advice of all of the experts. I’m following my heart, I’m following my kid’s lead,” Shappley said.
The White House responded to Texas’ new directive, stating in part, “Families should have the right to seek health care that will enable young people to live healthy and fulfilled lives. Conservative officials in Texas and other states across the country should stop inserting themselves into health care decisions that create needless tension between pediatricians and their patients.”
Health and Human Services also put out a statement, “Gender affirming care for transgender youth is essential and can be life-saving. Our nation’s leading pediatricians support evidence-based, gender affirming care for transgender young people. HHS stands with transgender youth and their medical providers.”
Nexstar has reached out to the Attorney General’s office for comment on the White House’s response.