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Judge temporarily blocks state’s ban on gender-affirming care for trans youth

Demonstrators hold signs in support of transgender youth outside the Capitol.
Gabriel C. Pérez
Demonstrators hold signs in support of transgender youth outside the Capitol.

A Texas judge on Friday temporarily blocked a state law that would ban transgender minors from accessing transition-related medical care.

The law, passed by the Texas Legislature earlier this year, was set to go into effect next month, but Travis County District Court Judge Maria Cantú Hexsel wrote in her ruling the law likely violates the Texas Constitution because it infringes on a parent’s right to make decisions about their child’s custody, care and control.

“This fundamental right includes the rights of parents to give, withhold and withdraw consent to medical treatment for their children,” she wrote. “This fundamental right also includes the right to seek and to follow medical advice to protect the health and well being of their minor children.”

The law should be temporarily halted, she added, otherwise the plaintiffs will suffer “probable, imminent and irreparable” harm.

Cantú Hexsel’s decision comes a week after a group of family members of transgender youth and LGBTQ organizations testified in court, asking for an injunction that would prevent the law, Senate Bill 14, from going into effect on Sept. 1.

The lawsuit was filed by several parent groups who have five transgender children between them; PFLAG, a national organization that that advocates for the LGBTQ+ community and its allies; GLMA, a national organization which supports and advocates for LGBTQ+ health care professionals; and three physicians who are licensed to practice in Texas. They are represented by American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, the ACLU, Lambda Legal, Transgender Law Center, and the law firms Scott Douglass & McConnico LLP and Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer LLP.

The judge also heard from attorneys for the state, who claimed the law “was enacted to protect minors from scientifically unsound treatment.”

The Office of the Texas Attorney General quickly filed an appeal blocking the judge's ruling.

"While a district judge’s ruling attempted to block the state’s enforcement of a Texas law protecting children from 'gender transition' interventions, this filing stays the ruling pending a decision by the Texas Supreme Court," said the AG's office on Friday.

In a statement, the ACLU of Texas said it plans to seek emergency relief from the appellate courts.

Under the law transgender people under 18 years old would be barred from accessing puberty blockers and hormone therapies, two of the most common forms of gender-affirming care.

These treatments are endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, the Pediatric Endocrine Society, the Texas Pediatric Society, and the American Board of Pediatrics as best practices for care.

The measure would also ban transition-related surgeries, although they are rarely performed on minors. Doctors who provide this type of care to transgender youth would have their licenses revoked.

In her decision, Cantú Hexsel agreed with the plaintiffs that the law would have a chilling effect on medical doctors and infringe on their “right of occupational freedom.”

“The Act deprives Texas physicians of their vested property interest in their medical licenses,” she wrote, adding that it requires licensed medical providers to disregard “well-established, evidence-based clinical practice guidelines” and that it “interferes with the professional relationships” among medical providers and the families they serve.”

Critics of the law wasted no time in celebrating the decision Friday afternoon.

“The court decision is a critical victory for transgender youth and their families, supporters, and health providers against this blatantly unconstitutional law,” said ACLU of Texas attorney Brian Klosterboer. “As Texans, we believe that each one of us should have the freedom to be ourselves and have access to best-practice medical care that we need for ourselves and our children without facing cruel discrimination or bullying designed as policy. Trans Texans shouldn’t have to go to court to defend their basic rights, and we will keep advocating for our clients every step of the way.”

Cantú Hexsel also ruled the law is discriminatory against transgender adolescents as it infringes upon the state Constitution’s guarantee of equality under the law.

Texas is not the first state to pass such bans on transition-related medical care.

Twenty other states have banned gender-affirming care such as puberty blockers and surgeries for transgender youth, according to the LGBTQ think tank Movement Advancement Project.

In Alabama, Florida, and Indiana, federal judges have either fully or partially blocked similar bans on transition-related care.

Last month, a federal judge lifted an injunction on Kentucky’s ban on gender-affirming care for transgender minors.

Copyright 2023 KERA

Sergio Martínez-Beltrán is the former Texas Capitol reporter for The Texas Newsroom.
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