TX Supreme Court permits state to probe sex-change treatments for minors as possible child abuse

Though court watchers have been transfixed in recent days on the fate of Roe v. Wade, the Texas Supreme Court on Friday issued a pivotal ruling in another hot-button legal question, namely, whether that state’s child welfare agency can investigate cases in which gender-affirming medical treatment could statutorily constitute child abuse, as the Daily Wire reports.

The controversy began when Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton earlier this year issued a formal legal opinion on whether the prescribing of puberty-blocking drugs and sex-change procedures to minors identifying as transgender was akin to child abuse under state law, doing so in the wake of an August, 2021 letter from Gov. Greg Abbott to the state’s Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) seeking a determination of the same.

In response to Paxton’s ultimate declaration that such procedures and treatments do fall under the umbrella of child abuse under Texas law, Abbott ordered that “all licensed professionals who have direct contact with children” would be required to report to state authorities anyone they suspected of receiving such interventions, under threat of prosecution.

That order almost immediately sparked a legal challenge from the ACLU of Texas and Lambda Legal, which filed suit on behalf of the mother of a teenage transgender individual who claimed she had been investigated by state authorities.

It was not long after that Travis County District Court Judge Amy Meachum temporarily halted that specific investigation and others like it, as The Hill reported at the time, saying that Abbott’s order for such probes may not withstand legal scrutiny and went “beyond the scope of his duty.”

Though an appeals court in the state upheld Meachum’s decision, the Texas Supreme Court unanimously ruled that child welfare authorities could resume parents and physicians facilitating the aforementioned types of gender reassignment procedures.

In doing, so, however, the high court issued something of a mixed ruling in that the probe launched against the plaintiff family in the litigation itself could not be restarted, but also found that the appeals court that upheld Meacham’s halt on the investigations exceeded its powers by promulgating a statewide order, according to NPR.

As such, the practical effect of the decision is to declare Abbott’s order and Paxton’s legal opinion “nonbinding” and to state that DFPS retains “the same discretion to investigate reports of child abuse that it had before” the opinion and order were issued.

It remains to be seen whether the state’s child welfare agency will indeed delve into cases of suspected abuse related to the provision of so-called gender-affirming medical care, but given that the litigation that brought this question to the courts in the first place remains ongoing, the case is certainly one to keep watching.