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Texas hospital halts gender-affirming care for children, fearing legal penalties

After Gov. Abbott's directive, providers find themselves stuck between offering treatments or suspending care to protect patients' families.

AUSTIN, Texas — After one of the largest pediatric hospitals in the nation, Texas Children's Hospital in Houston, announced it will pause hormone therapies for transgender children in fear of legal penalties, we checked in with Austin's local hospitals. 

Last month, Gov. Greg Abbott ordered the State's child welfare agency to investigate sex-reassignment surgeries and the use of certain hormone therapies as child abuse.

When asked if its Austin location is also pausing hormone therapy for transgender children, a Texas Children's Hospital spokesperson wrote in part, "The hospital's mission is to create a healthier future for all children within the bounds of the law. This step was taken to safeguard health care professionals and impacted families from potential criminal ramifications."

Many groups said the governor's directive isn't legally binding, so why is this hospital doing this now?

UT law professor Elizabeth Sepper said the hospital's move is premature. A bill that would have mandated those DFPS investigations didn't make it through the last legislative session and the governor doesn't have the right to change that, she said.

"They really should be thinking about things like medical malpractice," said Sepper. "The standard of care requires treating these children consistent with their gender identity. They should be worried about sex discrimination. Federal law prohibits them from discriminating against patients based on their gender identity."

On the other hand, Texas lawyer Justin Roberts said the governor's directive makes it clear that hospitals and clinics need to report families of children who get gender-affirming care and, if not, they could face criminal charges.

"What's happening, though, is that the state agency does have some enforcement authority," said Roberts. "They could start enforcing what the governor is asking them to enforce, and so there is a real risk that it will happen regardless."

He added, "In other words, you don't need the Legislature to tell the agency they can do what they can already do."

Lambda Legal, the firm fighting the governor's directive at a hearing this Friday, said it has heard of other hospitals pausing gender-affirming care as well. 

KVUE reached out to multiple hospitals and clinics in the Austin area to see if they too would be pausing hormone therapy for transgender children.

The only provider who made a statement on Monday is Kind Clinic.

Texas Health Action's Kind Clinic statement: 

"The ongoing politically motivated attacks against trans youth in Texas are reprehensible. If you are trans, or a parent, family member, or loved one of someone who is trans, there is a community of people who love you and have your back. Texas Health Action stands by the right of trans people to receive medically necessary, lifesaving care. Best practice, age-appropriate, evidence-based standards for gender-affirming care are not 'child abuse.' 

"The American Medical Association (AMA) supports youth, parents, and medical providers in the provision of gender-affirming care for youth. There is overwhelming evidence, and support from credible medical organizations, that providing high-quality medical care that­­­­­ affirms a person’s gender leads to lower rates of self-harm and suicide among transgender people. The notion that this lifesaving medical care is not medically necessary is non-sensical.

"There are many support resources available to you, including The Trevor Project: (866) 488-7386; The Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender National Hotline: (888) 843-4564; the GLBT National Youth Talkline (youth serving youth through age 25): (800) 246-7743; and Trans Lifeline: (877) 565-8860.

"Texas Health Action and its programs were created to meet a need in the community. We will continue to provide access to culturally affirming, quality health services in a safe and supportive environment with an expertise in serving LGBTQIA+ people and people impacted by HIV."

A Travis County judge temporarily blocked the governor's directive for one specific family last week, but a judge will look at this directive on a broader scale at Friday's hearing.

KVUE will update this story if more statements come in from local providers.

KVUE on social media: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube

Daranesha Herron on social media: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram


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