‘Heartbreaking’: Anti-Trans Healthcare Law Takes Effect in Texas

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Above: Protesters outside the Katy Independent School District’s central office on August 31

Editor’s Note: This piece discusses suicide and suicidal ideation. If you or someone you know is suicidal, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) or the Trevor Project at (866) 488-7386.

Texas’ anti-trans healthcare law is already having a “direct, measurable negative effect on children and families,” said Michele Hutchison, chief of pediatric endocrinology at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. 

Hutchison, whose career began in Texas, now frequently consults with families who are considering leaving the state to maintain their children’s healthcare.

Senate Bill 14, which prohibits doctors from providing safe, evidence-backed, and often life-saving forms of healthcare to transgender children, takes effect today after a lawsuit by the ACLU of Texas failed to stop it. Last week, a Travis County District Court issued a temporary injunction that blocked implementation of the law, but Attorney General Ken Paxton immediately appealed the case to the Texas Supreme Court, which automatically overrules a lower-court injunction. The Texas Supreme Court has so far refused, without comment, to issue a similar injunction. Five Texas families, with trans kids between the ages of nine and sixteen, are plaintiffs in the suit. 

Ash Hall, a policy and advocacy strategist at the ACLU of Texas said the law is unconstitutional and forces medical professionals to violate their code of ethics. 

“Doctors are being forced to violate their oath to ‘do no harm’ by not providing medical care … that improves mental health and lowers their risk of suicide,” they told us.

“I had several patients admitted to ICUs or hospitals for suicide attempts,” Hutchison told the Texas Observer. “It was heartbreaking.” 

Her account is consistent with reports finding that thoughts of self-harm are trending up and LGBTQ+ kids. According to a poll from the Trevor Project, which tries to prevent queer suicide, 86 percent of trans and nonbinary youth say political debates about trans people have negatively affected their mental health. 

“I had several patients admitted to ICUs or hospitals for suicide attempts.”

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Every major advisory board, from the American Medical Association to the American Academy of Pediatrics, has agreed that these forms of medical care are appropriate for young trans people and dramatically improve their mental health. Children begin these forms of treatment with great care, after months of consultations between parents, mental health professionals, and experts like Hutchinson. 

“There’s a lot of legal implications for these families to consider,” Hutchinson said. “And I’m not an attorney, so it’s difficult for me to advise them.”

Currently, an injunction won by the ACLU and Lambda Legal last September protects members of the pro-LGBTQ+ nonprofit PFLAG from investigation by Child Protective Services. Those who are not members are not covered by the injunction. 

Under the law, a medical provider who is found to be offering one of the banned medical treatments could lose their license. But Hall emphasized that these forms of care are—contrary to misinformation spread by the state’s lawyers—not only scientifically proven to be safe and effective, they are also essentially identical to forms of medical care offered to cisgender (non-trans) young people. For example, puberty blockers, which temporarily halt the advance of adolescence, are commonly prescribed to young cisgender girls undergoing “precocious” puberty. These same drugs also allow trans kids to make more deliberate choices about their bodies as they age into adulthood. According to Hall, this violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Texas Constitution.

“It discriminates against trans adolescents on the basis of sex and violates the rights of healthcare providers by interfering with their licensure and their ability to practice medicine,” Hall said.

Hutchinson, who got her start as an endocrinologist decades ago in Texas, said she recently allowed her license to practice medicine in the Lone Star State to lapse for the first time in order to continue safely providing medical care to patients in New Mexico without complications. She called the situation “strange” and “sad.” 

“I can’t even count how many families I know that have ripped up their lives to move to New Mexico so that their children can be taken care of without fear of reprisal,” Hutchinson said.

Although she said it’s “just horrible” that they’ve been forced to leave their homes, Hutchinson said, “It speaks to how much these parents love their children and believe in them that they would do that. It’s pretty amazing.”

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