Gov. Greg Abbott delivered Friday on a recent promise to use his political weight to try to halt medical interventions for transgender children, which are considered standard of care for adults. He wants state officials to redefine reassignment surgery — which is very rarely used for children — as a form of child abuse.
The governor said he intended to craft his own approach after state lawmakers failed a second time this year to pass an array of laws that would penalize health care providers for providing and parents for seeking gender affirming care and curtail transgender children’s medical and educational rights.
Abbott’s new plan came in the form of a letter to the state agency tasked with protecting children from abuse. Abbott asked the director of the Department of Family and Protective Services to “please issue a determination of whether genital mutilation of a child for purposes of gender transitioning through reassignment surgery constitutes child abuse.”
The term “genital mutilation” is traditionally used among human rights workers to refer to a procedure for young girls that prevents them from experiencing sexual pleasure. Abbott — who does not have a medical background — reframes the definition, stating as fact that “subjecting a child to genital mutilation through reassignment surgery creates a ‘genuine threat of substantial harm from physical injury to the child.’”
If the child protection officials ultimately determine these surgeries to be a form of child abuse, Abbott goes on to say, DFPS would be duty bound to investigate a child’s parents, and other state agencies would have to investigate medical practitioners who carried out the surgeries.
[M]edical experts say gender affirming care for transgender children rarely, if ever, includes use of the surgeries — orchiectomies, hysterectomies and mastectomies — Abbott cited in his letter Friday to DFPS Commissioner Jaime Masters. Most care for transgender children includes social transitioning and puberty blockers.
Experts also took issue with Abbott’s language in the letter, which repeatedly referred to gender confirmation surgery as “genital mutilation.”
Andrea Segovia, Transgender Education Network of Texas’ field and policy coordinator, said the move by Abbott is a continuation of Republican Texas leaders bullying marginalized children.
“It’s literally the harshest language possible, because he wants a reaction from his side,” she said. “And they can gain supporters in that of like, ‘Oh, that sounds awful. Yeah, we shouldn’t be doing that to our minors.’”
Equality Texas released a statement criticizing Abbott’s letter.
“This is nothing more than another political attempt to stigmatize transgender people, their loving families, and the healthcare providers who offer them lifesaving care,” CEO Ricardo Martinez said.
Texas doctors and advocates see Abbott’s letter as more of a political move than as having much of an impact on gender affirming care as it’s currently practiced in Texas.
“That just sounds like something to placate the base, but it doesn’t really do much of anything,” said Seth Kaplan, president of the Texas Pediatric Society.
“This is not a cause for alarm,” she said. “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.”
One would hope that if this request needs to be approved by actual medical professionals before it can be implemented, they would be doctors first and put their medical knowledge and ethics above crass political motives. That’s far from a sure thing, of course, but at least it’s a consideration. This is also a reminder that the reason Abbott is doing this is because Democratic quorum-busting actions, in the regular session and now, have thwarted the bills that would enshrine this crap into law so far. The fight matters. Mandy Giles has more.