A Texas state judge on Wednesday issued a ruling to temporarily block Gov. Greg Abbott’s directive ordering the state’s child welfare agency to investigate parents of transgender youth who receive gender-affirming care for “child abuse.”
Lawyers from two national civil rights organizations asked state District Judge Amy Clark Meachum in an emergency hearing Wednesday morning to issue the temporary restraining order, restricting enforcement of the governor’s Feb. 23 order.
The American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Texas, ACLU Women’s Rights Project and Lambda Legal, a national LGBTQ civil rights group, filed suit Tuesday against Abbott and the Department of Family and Protective Services and its commissioner Jaime Masters over investigations launched into parents of transgender minors immediately following the governor’s directive.
Two parents and their 16-year-old transgender daughter are plaintiffs in the lawsuit, under the names Jane and John Doe, and Mary Doe. They were one of the first families in Texas to face a DFPS investigation for helping their child seek best practice gender-affirming health care.
Meachum’s decision to grant a temporary restraining order means the investigation into the Doe family has been put on pause.
“We are relieved that – at least for now – the threat of a child abuse investigation is no longer hanging over the heads of the family members in this case,” Paul Castillo, senior counsel for Lambda Legal said in a statement.
The mother, Jane Doe, is herself a DFPS employee, and was placed on leave last week after she asked supervisors how the department would interpret the governor’s directive to investigate families like hers, according to the lawsuit.
“We are terrified for Mary’s health and wellbeing, and for our family. I feel betrayed by my state and the agency for whom I work,” Jane Doe stated in the legal filing.
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The lawsuit came one week after Abbott issued the order, which is based on a non-legally binding opinion written by Attorney General Ken Paxton arguing gender-affirming treatments could be considered “child abuse.”
Investigations into two additional families with transgender children had also begun Castillosaid in Wednesday’s court hearing.
Megan Mooney, a clinical psychologist and mandatory reporter of abuse under Texas law, is also named as a plaintiff. She has received threats that she’ll lose her license if she does not report her transgender and nonbinary patients, Castillo said.
Medical providers in the state have already stopped providing prescriptions for gender-affirming care for transgender kids, Castillo said.
the American Academy of Pediatrics, together with the Texas Pediatric Societythe Endocrine Society and the American Psychological Associationissued statements condemning Abbott’s efforts to classify medically necessary treatments as “child abuse.”
What does the lawsuit say?
Tuesday’s lawsuit claims Abbott’s directives to investigate parents of transgender youth who received gender-affirming care were issued without proper authority. The plaintiffs couch their claims under a term called “ultra vires.”
“It’s Latin for basically, ‘That’s not your job.’ It’s beyond your capacities,” said Stephen Sheppard, a law professor at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, Texas.
Additionally, the suit claims Abbott and Masters acted in violation of the Texas Administrative Procedures Act, the separation of powers requirements of the Texas Constitution and the right to due process and equal protections clauses of the US Constitution.
“It’s absolute apathy by the governor and the attorney general as to their duties under the Constitution,” Sheppard said.
At the hearing, Castillo explained that parents who stop providing their trans kids with best practice gender-affirming care in response to Abbott’s directive could, under state statute, face separate DFPS investigations for failing to give their child the proper medical treatments.
‘A political publicity stunt’
The plaintiffs will next seek to more permanently prohibit Abbott and DFPS’ rule about investigating parents who provide gender-affirming care for their transgender kids, according to the lawsuit. That hearing is set for March 11, Lambda Legal said in a press release.
“This whole thing is a political publicity stunt, and they’re looking for victims,” said Sheppard, predicting that the plaintiffs will prove Abbott is abusing his office. “…This is an election year stunt. And people get hurt.”
The governor and the attorney general are both up for reelection this year.
In December 2021, the Texas Criminal Court of Appeals ruled Paxton violated the separation-of-powers clause in the Texas Constitution by trying to go after instances of voter fraud without the permission of local prosecutors, the Texas Tribune reported.
Contributing: Jeanine Santucci, USA TODAY
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism