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Judge Temporarily Shields Family and Psychologist from Texas Governor’s Order on Transgender Care for Youth

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speaks during a border security briefing on July 10, 2021, in Austin.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speaks during a briefing on July 10, 2021, in Austin.

A Texas judge temporarily shielded two parents, their transgender daughter and her psychologist on Wednesday from Gov. Greg Abbott’s (R) order describing certain forms of treatment for transgender youth as potentially “child abuse.”

The parents, child and the provider sued Abbott on Tuesday, saying the “unconstitutional” decree struck “terror” in the family. The mother, identified only in the petition as “Jane Doe,” is an employee of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, which is a co-defendant in the lawsuit.

The narrow temporary restraining order applies only to the named plaintiffs in the case.

Judge Amy Clark Meachum, from Travis County’s 201st Civil District Court, set a hearing for March 11 at 10 a.m. Central Time, to determine whether she should grant a “statewide temporary injunction that would prevent the investigation of any reports of people facilitating or providing gender-affirming care to transgender minors solely based on the fact that the minors are transgender.”

“The Court finds Jane Doe has been placed on administrative leave at work and is at risk of losing her job and that Jane, John and Mary Doe face the imminent and ongoing deprivation of their constitutional rights, the potential loss of necessary medical care, and the stigma attached to being the subject of an unfounded child abuse investigation,” Meachum wrote. “The Court further finds that if placed on the Child Abuse Registry, Jane Doe could lose the ability to practice her profession and both Jane and John Doe could lose their ability to work with minors and volunteer in their community.”

Houston-based clinical psychologist Megan Mooney said the law puts her in an “untenable” position of facing possible prosecution for abiding by the standards of her profession. If she complies with the governor’s directive, Mooney said, she could face “a state jail felony punishable by up to two years in prison and/or a $10,000 fine” for falsely reporting child abuse.

Judge Meachum agreed, writing: “The Court further finds that Plaintiff Mooney could face civil suit by patients for failing to treat them in accordance with professional standards and loss of licensure for failing to follow her professional ethics if she complies with Defendants’ orders and actions.”

“If she does not comply with Defendants’ orders, Dr. Mooney could face immediate criminal prosecution, as set forth in the Governor’s letter,” the ruling added.

Attorneys for the American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal represent unidentified parents and daughter, as well as their provider.

During a hearing on Wednesday morning, Assistant Attorney General Ryan Kercher tried to play down the significance of the order, noting that it refers to a separate opinion by his boss Ken Paxton (R). That 13-page document, in turn, hedges medical for transgender youth such as gender-affirmation surgery and hormone therapy as forms of treatment that “could” rise to “child abuse” under Lone Stare State law.

“These treatments could be used by somebody to harm a child,” Kercher said.

Judge Meachum appeared skeptical of the state’s attempt to distance itself from the law’s possible effects.

“If not to change the way DFPS was currently operating, what was the purpose of the governor’s directive to DFPS?” asked Meachum, referring to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.

During oral arguments this morning, Lambda Legal attorney Paul Castillo emphasized that the governor’s order was no recitation of the status quo.

“It is not, ‘We will follow the law,'” Castillo told the judge. “It actually changes the definition of the law.”

Castillo added that with those changes come real-world consequences.

“Medical providers have stopped care in terms of prescriptions to transgender kids, because the threat […] is so grave,” he said.

Following the ruling, Castillo described the restraining order as a relief to the family.

“We are relieved that—at least for now—the threat of a child abuse investigation is no longer hanging over the heads of the family members in this case,” he said. “It is unconscionable for DFPS to still pursue any investigation or inflict more trauma and harm. We look forward to continuing the fight for all Texas families.”

According to the independent news outlet The 19th, Texas has proposed more than 40 bill targeting transgender youth, a trend that falls amid a wave of similar legislation being debated in statehouses in Alabama, Idaho, and elsewhere. A study published late last year in the peer-reviewed Journal of Adolescent Health found that hormone therapy strongly correlated with a lower risk of suicide for transgender youth. The study was based on a sample of than 9,000 transgender and nonbinary youths between the ages of 13 to 24.

“These efforts to cut off and criminalize necessary health care for transgender minors are in direct conflict with the recommendations of medical professionals and have nothing to do with what’s best for trans youth,” Chase Strangio, the deputy director for trans justice with the ACLU LGBTQ & HIV Project, said in a statement at the time of the lawsuit’s filing. “They may be escalating, but these attacks are not new. Trans youth need you to take the fury you have over what’s happening in Texas and share it with lawmakers in every state that is trying to make it harder for trans youth to survive.”

Abbott’s spokesperson did not immediately respond to Law&Crime’s email requesting comment.

Read the ruling, below:

[image via Tamir Kalifa/Getty Images]

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Law&Crime's managing editor Adam Klasfeld has spent more than a decade on the legal beat. Previously a reporter for Courthouse News, he has appeared as a guest on NewsNation, NBC, MSNBC, CBS's "Inside Edition," BBC, NPR, PBS, Sky News, and other networks. His reporting on the trial of Ghislaine Maxwell was featured on the Starz and Channel 4 documentary "Who Is Ghislaine Maxwell?" He is the host of Law&Crime podcast "Objections: with Adam Klasfeld."