In response to the new anti-trans directive announced this week by Texas governor Greg Abbott, which requires the state to investigate instances of gender-affirming health care for transgender minors as “child abuse,” the White House released a statement on Wednesday condemning the move. “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,” White House principal deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told The Dallas Morning News. “No parent should face the agony of a politician standing in the way of accessing life-saving care for their child.”
The White House position reflects the growing progressive backlash against the Republican governor, who on Tuesday wrote a letter to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) noting that certain transition-related medical care constitutes “child abuse under existing Texas law.” Abbott directed the agency to “conduct a prompt and thorough investigation of any reported instances of these abusive procedures in the State of Texas.” He cited a February 18 opinion from Texas attorney general Ken Paxton that offered a new interpretation of the Texas Family Code; Paxton also wrote this week that providing minors with hormone therapy, puberty blockers, and other forms of care constitutes “‘abuse’ under Texas law, and thus must be halted.” In a comment to The Dallas Morning News, DFPS said that it “will follow Texas law” as interpreted by Paxton.
Abbott also threatened any medical professionals who are aware of such procedures but do not report them. “Texas law imposes reporting requirements upon all licensed professionals who have direct contact with children who may be subject to such abuse, including doctors, nurses, and teachers, and provides criminal penalties for failure to report such child abuse,” he wrote in his Tuesday letter. “There are similar reporting requirements and criminal penalties for members of the general public.”
But the ACLU of Texas took a different position on the Republican effort: “Paxton’s opinion is not legally binding, and it remains up to the courts to interpret Texas laws and the Constitution,” the civil rights group wrote in a Wednesday press release. Additionally, “no court here in Texas or anywhere in the country has ever found that gender-affirming care can be considered child abuse,” the statement read.
Aside from the White House response, Abbott and Paxton’s anti-trans action has also been criticized by Texas Democrats and transgender advocates. Harris County attorney Christian Menefee, a Democrat who serves as the chief civil lawyer for the largest county in Texas, accused Abbott and Paxton of “ignoring medical professionals and intentionally misrepresenting the law to the detriment of transgender children and their families” in a Tuesday statement. He added in a tweet: “As the lawyer who represents DFPS in civil child abuse cases in Harris County, I can tell you my office won’t be participating in this political game.”
Kate Murphy, senior policy associate for the nonprofit health care group Texans Care for Children, told The Dallas Morning News, “If loving parents are following recommended medical care that they believe is in the best interest of their child, it’s hard to fathom why Texas would legally conclude that is child abuse.” Additionally, Sam Ames, the director of advocacy and government affairs for the Trevor Project, a suicide prevention nonprofit for LGBTQ+ youth, told Bloomberg that the Texas directive is “at odds with every major medical and mental health association in the country. We urge the Texas attorney general to put politics aside and focus on increasing access to this lifesaving medical care—not cut it off.”