Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has asked the Texas Department of Family Protective Services’ top official to determine whether gender confirmation surgeries performed on transgender children constitute “child abuse” under Texas law.
Abbott, facing a primary challenge from real estate developer and former State Sen. Don Huffines (R-Dallas), vowed last month to prioritize a bill to restrict transgender minors from receiving gender-affirming medical care.
Abbott did not initially include the bill in a list of legislative priorities he was hoping to see passed during a special session of the legislature held last month, prompting criticism from Huffines and other political opponents who believe Abbott has not gone far enough in pushing a conservative agenda as governor.
Although an anti-transgender sports bill and other conservative measures passed the Texas Senate with ease, the whole session was largely derailed after a substantial number of House Democrats fled to Washington, D.C. in order to deny chamber leaders a quorum needed to proceed with business, in protest of a bill to place additional restrictions on non-Election Day and mail-in voting, which they say disproportionately harms communities of color.
Undeterred, Abbott called another special session for this month, in the hope that enough House Democrats would return to Texas so Republicans could jam through their preferred bills on party-line votes. But this time, he urged lawmakers to pass a ban on transition-related care.
During the regular session, the Senate passed a bill to prohibit transgender youth from receiving hormone therapy, puberty blockers, or gender confirmation surgery, defining such interventions as “child abuse.” However, the House version of the bill died after lawmakers failed to pass it by a pre-imposed deadline.
Medical experts have previously noted in testimony that surgical interventions are rarely pursued on minors, with most doctors who treat gender dysphoria in minors choosing to pursue less-invasive methods like hormone therapy or drugs to delay the onset of secondary sex characteristics that typically accompany puberty.
Nonetheless, Abbott, in a letter to DFPS that many critics have characterized as an act of political posturing, sought to have the agency declare such treatments as harmful — which may be enough to “prove” his conservative bona fides to primary voters if Texas lawmakers once again fail to obtain a quorum necessary to pass Abbott’s “wish-list” of conservative legislation.
Casually throwing around inflammatory labels such as “child abuse” or “genital mutilation,” Abbott argued that subjecting a minor to surgery is more harmful to children, creating a so-called “genuine threat of substantial harm from physical injury to the child” — or in other words, what Texas defines as child abuse.
“This broad definition of ‘abuse’ should cover a surgical procedure that will sterilize the child, such as orchiectomy or hysterectomy, or remove otherwise healthy body parts, such as penectomy or mastectomy,” Abbott insisted.
“Indeed, Texas already outlaws female genital mutilation of a child, and presumably that also constitutes child abuse. DFPS’s determination should consider making explicit what is already implicit in the statute: that genital mutilation of a child through reassignment surgery is child abuse.”
Abbott also contended that if DFPS determines surgical interventions — however rare — constitute child abuse, then licensed medical professionals should be held accountable if they do not inform authorities of instances in which such surgery has taken place.
Besides criticizing Abbott’s refusal to acknowledge that surgical interventions are rare, LGBTQ advocates slammed Abbott’s conflation of medically necessary care with genital mutilation as an attempt to bully and disparage members of the transgender community.
“It’s literally the harshest language possible, because he wants a reaction from his side,” Andrea Segovia, the field and policy coordinator with the Transgender Education Network of Texas, told the Texas Tribune. “And they can gain supporters in that of like, ‘Oh, that sounds awful. Yeah, we shouldn’t be doing that to our minors.'”
“This is nothing more than another political attempt to stigmatize transgender people, their loving families, and the healthcare providers who offer them lifesaving care,” Ricardo Martinez, the CEO of Equality Texas, said in a statement blasting Abbott’s letter.
“Every legislative year, opponents of equality present the public with a new, fabricated ’emergency’ and misinformation related to LGBTQ+ people to create fear about our community. This year the Governor’s target is children,” Martinez added.
“The language used in his letter to DFPS has nothing to do with the reality of affirming healthcare practices, which are careful, thoughtful, and backed by every credible medical association.”
A DFPS spokesperson said the agency would begin working “immediately” to determine whether it will classify gender-affirming surgery as abuse.
Abbott has pledged to keep calling special sessions until all of the legislation he has prioritized, including the anti-trans medical bill, passes.
However, advocates have argued that parents should not be intimidated by Abbott’s grandstanding from seeking out any medically necessary care that their transgender children may require.
“Our organization does not want community or parents or anybody to think that this is a letter saying that medical sort of appointments and anything like that should stop,” Segovia told the Tribune.
The Texas Supreme Court has issued a mixed ruling regarding state investigations into parents who allow their transgender children to access gender-affirming care.
The high court stopped an investigation into the family of a particular transgender minor, whose mother, Jane Doe, works for the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services and questioned how the department would enforce a directive from Gov. Greg Abbott. That directive ordered state agencies to investigate parents who allow transgender children to access puberty blockers, hormones, or surgery (which is rarely performed on minors) for "child abuse."
Last week, the Florida Department of Health issued guidance discouraging transgender minors suffering from gender dysphoria from socially transitioning or obtaining any gender-affirming health care treatments.
The guidance issued by the department directly conflicts with advice from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and medical experts, who recommend that minors suffering from gender dysphoria obtain treatment based on their individual needs and health assessments -- although HHS does not recommend gender confirmation surgery for minors.
In a memo, the Florida Department of Health specifically recommended against minors receiving hormone therapies, puberty-blocking drugs, or gender confirmation surgery to assist in a transition.
Conservative media personality and BlazeTV host Elijah Schaffer joked about killing transgender children last week after being told by an unnamed source that a "mass genocide" is being committed against trans youth in Texas.
The comment about "mass genocide," allegedly made off-air, refers to a recent order issued by Gov. Greg Abbott directing state welfare agencies to investigate parents for suspected "child abuse" if they have reason to believe that a transgender minor has obtained gender-affirming health care, such as hormones or puberty blockers, to treat their gender dysphoria.
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