March 11 (Reuters) - A Texas judge on Friday temporarily blocked the state from investigating parents who provide their transgender children with gender-transitioning medical treatments that Governor Greg Abbott calls "child abuse."
District Court Judge Amy Clark Meachum imposed a statewide temporary injunction on investigations that Abbott ordered the Department of Family Protective Services (DFPS) to carry out, saying the probes endangered children and their families.
The ruling marked a victory for LGBTQ groups, medical professionals and civil liberties advocates opposing moves by conservative politicians in dozens of states to criminalize the provision of gender-transitioning treatments for trans youth.
Critics of such proposals have accused Republicans of seizing on issues surrounding gender identity as a wedge issue in the run-up to November's mid-term congressional elections, with Republicans keen to try and retake the majority in both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.
The injunction issued Friday in Texas is to remain in place until it is fully litigated and settled by a judgment or other means. Meachum scheduled a trial to start July 11.
In her decision following a seven-hour hearing, Meachum said Abbott had overreached.
“The governor's directive was given the effect of a new law or a new agency rule, despite no new legislation,” Meachum said, saying the actions of the governor and the DFPS commissioner violated "separation of powers by impermissibly encroaching into the legislative domain.”
Abbott's February directive called on doctors, nurses and teachers to report such treatment or face criminal penalties.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Lambda Legal lawsuit challenged Abbott's order on behalf of the family of a 16-year-old transgender girl targeted for investigation.
The child has taken puberty-delaying medications and hormone therapy. Her mother is a DFPS employee and was put on paid administrative leave after asking what Abbott's directive would mean for her family.
Meachum last week temporarily blocked a probe of the teen's parents. At Friday's hearing, she approved a request to go one step further, stopping the probes statewide.
Meachum said the plight of the 16-year-old and her parents, whose names were withheld in the lawsuit, was an example of the "irreparable injury" that would be caused unless the investigations were stopped, given the stigma attached to being the targets of a child abuse investigation, as well as the loss of livelihood.
Representing the state, assistant attorney general Courtney Corbello argued that gender-transitioning procedures constituted child abuse, saying they involved administering controlled substances that physically and mentally impaired children.
The position was countered by doctors, testifying as expert witnesses, who said procedures like puberty blockers and hormone therapy were safe, reversible medical treatments.
Andrea Dalhouse, a parent of a transgender child, said she felt trapped between activists who saw "trans medicine" as "blissful," pharmaceutical companies selling products, and Texas politicians like Abbott who wanted procedures banned.
"It's shut down the possibility of having a civil and compassionate discussion about the real science that we don't have yet," said Dalhouse, the mother of a trans-identifying 17-year-old. "We don't know, if we're jumping all these kids on hormones and lopping off body parts, what this means longterm."
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The DFPS has opened nine child welfare inquiries under Abbott's directive, a spokesman said.
Abbott, a Republican running for a third term in office, issued the directive based on the Feb. 18 non-binding legal opinion from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton days before a Texas primary election that Abbott easily won.
The court heard from a DFPS supervisor who said that under the directive child abuse inspectors were told they had to investigate parents of transgender children, even if they did not think abuse had occurred.
"We had to be investigating these cases," Randa Mulanax testified, adding that she has handed in her resignation letter because she believed the directive was "unethical."
(Reporting by Andrew Hay in Taos, N.M. Editing by Donna Bryson, Matthew Lewis, Rosalba O'Brien, Aurora Ellis and Leslie Adler)