Texas Supreme Court Rules to Allow Trans Abuse Inquiries
AUSTIN, Texas — The Texas Supreme Court ruled unanimously on Friday that the state child welfare agency can continue investigating parents and doctors who provide gender-affirming care for transgender youth.
Gov. Greg Abbott’s February directive to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services compelled the agency to treat cases where children received gender-transitioning medical treatment as child abuse. In March, The Well News reported that the Travis County District Court issued an injunction temporarily preventing the enforcement of the directive, which was then partially overturned on Friday.
Justice Jimmy Blacklock wrote in the court’s opinion that state officials could not resume the investigation into the plaintiffs who filed the lawsuit challenging the directive. The court ruled in its decision that the inquiry into the suing party could irreparably harm them and left part of the injunction in place as the case proceeds to trial.
“Because the governor lacks the authority to investigate or prosecute the plaintiffs, and no party alleges that he has threatened to do so, an order prohibiting him from engaging in such conduct has no support in this record,” Blacklock wrote in the 12-page opinion. “In all other respects, the court denies mandamus relief as to the order’s application to the defendants’ conduct with respect to these plaintiffs, while the appeal is pending.”
The court ruled that neither Attorney General Ken Paxton — who authored the nonbinding legal opinion that preceded the directive — nor Abbott has the authority to direct the state child welfare agency to investigate the families of transgender youth. In court, attorneys for the state contended that the investigations into the families did not constitute a legal “injury.”
Texas’ highest court ruled that DFPS had discretion over how it conducts abuse inquiries despite the state’s argument that the district court exceeded its authority in preventing them. While statewide investigations by the child welfare agency can eventually resume, similar investigations could lead to the same “irreparable harm” faced by the plaintiffs in this particular case.
The plaintiffs were represented in court by the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Texas and Lambda Legal, who issued a statement celebrating the court’s ruling.
“Though the court limited its order to the Doe family and Dr. Mooney, it reaffirmed that Texas law has not changed and no mandatory reporter or DFPS employee is required to take any action based on the governor’s directive and attorney general opinion,” the organizations’ attorneys said in a written statement.
“By upholding the injunction, the court left in place the lower court’s decision that investigations based solely on the provision of medically necessary health care cause irreparable harm,” they continued. “It would be unconscionable for DFPS to continue these lawless investigations while this lawsuit continues, and we will not stop fighting to protect the safety and lives of transgender youth here in Texas.”
Many DFPS inquiries into the families of transgender youth have been undertaken since Abbott issued the directive. Officials from state medical associations opposed efforts to pass bills banning gender-affirming care in the state last year, and district attorneys from some of Texas’ largest counties have refused to cooperate with Abbott’s order.
The American Medical Association reiterated its position declaring transgender medical care legitimate last year. In April 2021, the AMA issued a letter to the National Governors Association urging them to oppose legislative initiatives to limit access to sex-altering treatments for “gender-diverse” pediatric patients.
“The AMA opposes the dangerous intrusion of government into the practice of medicine and the criminalization of health care decision-making,” AMA Board Member Michael Suk said in a written statement. “Gender-affirming care is medically necessary, evidence-based care that improves the physical and mental health of transgender and gender-diverse people.”