In a Tuesday letter to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS), Governor Greg Abbott directed the agency to investigate any reported instances of children receiving sex-altering procedures or care.
The order comes after a recent formal opinion was written by Attorney General Ken Paxton, in which his office stated that “gender-affirming” care such as hormonal treatments and surgeries should be interpreted as child abuse under the Texas Family Code.
According to Abbott’s order, procedures such as “reassignment surgeries that can cause sterilization, mastectomies, removals of otherwise healthy body parts, and administration of puberty-blocking drugs or supraphysiologic doses of testosterone or estrogen,” are deemed “abuse” under existing law.
The Governor reiterated that the law “imposes reporting requirements” on medical professionals and child-care workers such as teachers that come into contact with children who may experience abuse. The letter additionally notes that the general public is also obligated to report abuse, and warns that anyone who fails to report it can face “criminal penalties.”
As elective medical procedures for gender transitioning are now being officially considered child abuse, it must therefore be both reported and investigated.
Texas officials have attempted to pass legislation making “gender-affirming” medical treatment illegal in the past.
Bills such as last year’s HB 1399 proposed making it illegal to perform surgeries on minors that affect one’s sex. The bill, which faced fierce opposition and fizzled out in the Texas Legislature, would have also restricted doctors’ ability to prescribe hormonal treatments to transgender children.
Paxton was an avid proponent of the bill, hence the written opinion now being issued by the Office of the Attorney General.
The implications of an “opinion” are easily confused. In legal terms, an opinion is a “written document in which an attorney provides his or her understanding of the law as applied to assumed facts,” USLegal writes.
In layman’s terms, an opinion is a recommended interpretation of a law. However, Abbott’s letter formally backed Paxton’s analysis and issued his direction based upon its analysis.
The nonprofit legal firm ACLU argues that Abbott and Paxton’s conclusions are not an accurate reading of the law, but rather an attempt to alter it.
In a statement on Twitter, the organization asserted, “Attorney general Paxton’s opinion and Governor Abbott’s letter have no legal effect, can’t change Texas law, and can’t override the constitutional rights of Texas families.”
Texas State Rep. James Talarico responded, claiming that the deaths from the 2021 freeze and “separating families at the border” are the real forms of abuse, not transgender care.