Pandemonium, then silence: Inside a Texas abortion clinic after the fall of Roe

SAN ANTONIO — On Friday morning, a nurse at Alamo Women’s Reproductive Services in San Antonio ushered a patient into an exam room. She gave her a gown, told her the doctor would be in shortly and stepped back out of the room into a changed world.

“I saw the other nurses standing in the hallway,” said Jenny, a nurse who has been with the clinic for five years and asked to be identified only by her first name for fear of being targeted by anti-abortion protesters. “And I just knew.”

In the few minutes she’d been inside the exam room, the U.S. Supreme Court had overturned Roe v. Wade, clearing the way for Texas to fully ban the procedure she had just prepped a patient for.

Jenny and four other staff members stood in the hallway, paralyzed. They had a dozen patients sitting in the lobby awaiting abortions, all seemingly unaware of the seismic shift that had just rocked the reproductive health care world.

[Abortions in Texas have stopped after Attorney General Ken Paxton said pre-Roe bans could be in effect, clinics say]

Before they could even decide how to proceed, the door to the clinic slammed open and a young woman ran in, yelling about Roe v. Wade and saving babies. They didn’t recognize her but believed she was associated with the anti-abortion protesters who often massed outside the clinic.

The woman quickly fled, leaving the clinic staff alone with a dozen sets of eyes staring back at them from the waiting room chairs.

“Obviously, that wasn’t how we had wanted it to come out,” Jenny said.

While other nurses addressed the elephant in the waiting room, Jenny returned to the patient she had just left.

A patient returns for a follow up appointment to make sure her abortion treatment was successful hours after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade at the Alamo Women’s Reproductive Services abortion clinic in San Antonio on June 24, 2022.

A patient returns for an appointment Friday to make sure her abortion treatment was successful. The clinic is still offering follow-up appointments to people who recently had abortions, some of the last patients the clinic may see. Credit: Kaylee Greenlee Beal for The Texas Tribune

“I just said, ‘You have to get dressed and come back out to the lobby,’” she said. “I told her, ‘The doctor will explain more … but we can’t even give you a consultation today.’”

The legal status of abortion in Texas was murky in the immediate aftermath of Friday’s ruling. The state has a “trigger law” that automatically bans abortion 30 days after the ruling is certified, a process that could take a month or more.

But in an advisory issued Friday, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said that abortion providers could be held criminally liable immediately because the state never repealed the abortion prohibitions that were on the books before Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973.

Rather than risking criminal charges, Texas’ clinics stopped providing abortions Friday.

Andrea Gallegos, executive director of Alamo Women’s Reproductive Services, said she’s hopeful that the clinic’s lawyers may find a way to allow it to resume abortions briefly before the trigger ban goes into effect.

But either way, abortion will soon be banned in the second-largest state in the country. The clinics will close. The staff will relocate or find new jobs. And the people they would have served will melt into the shadows, fleeing over state lines, seeking out illegal abortions or quietly consigning themselves to decades of raising children they never wanted.

Bearing the bad news

The staff at Alamo Women’s Reproductive Services are no strangers to bad news. For years, they’ve had to navigate ever-tightening restrictions that force them to delay care or turn patients away.

But never have they had to deliver so much bad news in such a short period of time. Dr. Alan Braid, who owns the clinic, told the women in the waiting room — and those who had already been admitted to exam rooms — that they were halting all abortions immediately.

Some just got up and left. One woman got upset, angrily demanding that Braid go through with the abortion anyway. She had driven hours to make it to this appointment after her home state of Oklahoma banned all abortions.

“I understand why she’s upset, and she has every right to be upset, but we’re not the enemy here,” Gallegos said. “The only thing we could tell her was this wasn’t because of us, it was because of the Supreme Court.“

One woman was on her fourth visit to the clinic. She’d been too early in the pregnancy for an abortion during the first two appointments, but finally, yesterday, staff were able to detect a pregnancy on the sonogram. But Texas requires clinics to wait 24 hours after a sonogram to perform an abortion, so they sent her home.

She arrived at the clinic Friday morning, not long after the Supreme Court ruled. When staff told her the news, she was bereft — rocking back and forth, wailing, begging for the staff to help her.

“I just told her, you did everything right and we did everything that we could, but unfortunately, our hands are tied today,” clinic director Kristina Hernandez said.

Andrea Gallegos speaks with a few of her employees after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade at the Alamo Women’s Reproductive Services abortion clinic in San Antonio on June 24, 2022.

Executive director Andrea Gallegos speaks with a few of her employees at Alamo Women’s Reproductive Services in San Antonio after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade on Friday. Credit: Kaylee Greenlee Beal for The Texas Tribune

Gallegos said it’s devastating to know just how easily they could have helped that patient.

“Sometimes it’s just a matter of handing somebody a pill, and for the surgical [abortion], it’s less than five minutes,” she said. “It’s fast, it’s easy, it’s safe, it’s done. It’s health care.”

Instead, they had to send her away.

After they cleared the waiting room, the staff turned to the stack of two dozen appointments scheduled for the rest of the day. They distributed the files, took deep breaths and started dialing.

They explained, again and again: No, you can’t get an abortion here anymore. No, you can’t reschedule. No, you can’t go to another clinic in Texas, or even Oklahoma, or a lot of other states. No, it doesn’t matter if you’re under six weeks. No, not even if you come in right now. No, this isn’t our fault. No, no, no, no.

They offered a list of out-of-state clinics and groups that help fund abortions and travel that they put together when Texas banned abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy. They spent most of the day listening to the busy signals and voicemail boxes of clinics in New Mexico, where abortion will remain legal.

They make this effort because there is little else they can do. But they are well aware that many of their patients struggle to find babysitters for the duration of their appointments, let alone traveling out of state to get abortions.

And even if they can find babysitters, and get time off from work, and safely leave the state, Friday’s ruling is only going to make it harder for low-income Texans to access resources to pay for these journeys. Texas abortion funds have stopped paying for out-of-state travel and abortions until they can better assess the legal implications of their work.

Fear for the future

As the pandemonium of the morning subsided, something far worse settled over the clinic: silence. Staff sat around the check-in desk, filing paperwork and tidying up. Someone ordered pizza.

They listened in to televised press conferences, hoping to glean information about their own fates. They talked about where the fight might go from here, and some of the bigger battles they’ve had to wage over the years. They talked about what this meant for their daughters, and the patients they’d treated over the years, and those they would likely never get the chance to see.

A lot of the staff members have been working for the clinic for years. Hernandez was there with Braid when this location opened in 2015.

Nurse Kristina Hernandez becomes emotional while remembering stories of previous patients she helped at the Alamo Women’s Reproductive Services abortion clinic before Roe v. Wade was overturned in San Antonio on June 24, 2022.

“This is what I’m good at. This is what I want to keep doing,” Kristina Hernandez says. Credit: Kaylee Greenlee Beal for The Texas Tribune

“This is my baby,” she said. “This is my life, right? This is what I’m good at. This is what I want to keep doing. I can’t do anything else. I mean, I can, but I don’t want to.”

When Hernandez thinks about all the patients she’s been able to help over the years, it’s overwhelming. She’s had women come up to her in H-E-B, years after she helped with their abortions, and give her hugs before disappearing into the aisles.

On days like this, she thinks a lot about a young woman she spent three hours having a theological discussion with before the woman ultimately decided to have an abortion, and her own sister, who decided not to.

The clinic plans to keep the doors open and the staff employed as long as it can. They’re holding on to hope that they may be able to squeeze in a few more patients before the trigger ban goes into effect.

And they’re still offering follow-up appointments for patients who had abortions recently — perhaps the final patients the clinic will ever get to treat.

A young woman showed up Friday afternoon for her follow-up appointment, with her 3-month-old in tow. She’s a single mom in her early 30s, raising four children already.

When she found out she was pregnant again, she decided she couldn’t responsibly raise another child. She’s already struggling financially, and she was trying to leave her boyfriend, who she said was physically abusive.

“I have to figure out who’s gonna watch my babies on the weekends so I can go to work, and it’s stressful,” she said. “So I’m not gonna bring another baby into this.”

She got the two-drug medication abortion regimen at the clinic earlier this week. It was an easy process, she said, and she was hugely relieved to hear that it had been successful.

But with four kids, if she’d been turned away, she said she wouldn’t have even tried to leave the state or find another way.

“It’s not worth all that effort,” she said. “I would have just kept it.”

Disclosure: H-E-B has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.


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This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2022/06/25/texas-abortion-san-antonio-supreme-court/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

A Texas abortion clinic survived decades of restrictions. The Supreme Court may finally put it out of business.

By Eleanor Klibanoff, The Texas Tribune

SAN ANTONIO — As the frosted-glass window slides open, a dozen heads pop up, all with the same anxious, expectant look. One by one, women are called up to the desk at Alamo Women’s Reproductive Services to learn whether and when they can get an abortion.

For months, the clinic has had to be the bearer of bad news, telling clients that they were too far along to terminate their pregnancies in Texas. It doesn’t get any easier, employees said, explaining again and again that the state has banned abortions after about six weeks, a point at which many don’t even know they are pregnant.

But recently, the clinic has had to flip that script. Many of the women who were seen for an initial appointment on a recent Tuesday weren’t too late for an abortion — they were too early.

One patient said she took two pregnancy tests, one positive, one negative, so she decided to come in just to be safe. Nothing showed up on her ultrasound, so clinic staff told her to take another test in a week and come back.

She leaned in, twisting her paperwork in her hands.

“Can I just take the [abortion] pill to be sure?”

Many patients are taking daily pregnancy tests, clinic director Andrea Gallegos said, and coming in at — or before — the first sign of pregnancy, terrified that they’re going to miss the six-week window.

“There’s some patients we see two, three times for sonograms before we actually see evidence and before we can give the pill,” Gallegos said. “But at least we catch it before six weeks.”

It’s far from perfect — the clinic is still having to turn away patients who are beyond the legal limit, and Gallegos worries most of all about the patients who know they’re beyond six weeks and don’t even make an appointment.

But over the last nine months, abortion clinics, and the patients they treat, have started to adapt to life under the new law.

This is what abortion clinics in Texas have done for decades. They add waiting periods and read the mandated script. They force patients to listen to a description of the fetus from the required sonogram. They fight new laws in court, and at the same time, race to comply with them, always bobbing and weaving to ensure they’re still able to provide abortions.

But any day now, the U.S. Supreme Court may deliver the knockout punch these clinics have feared for decades.

“If we can’t do abortions, then these clinics will no longer exist,” Gallegos said. “For the first time, I think we all just feel really helpless.”

Andrea Gallegos, executive administrator of Alamo Women’s Reproductive Services in San Antonio, stands outside the facility for a portrait on June 14, 2022.

Andrea Gallegos, executive administrator of Alamo Women’s Reproductive Services in San Antonio, stands outside the facility for a portrait on June 14, 2022. Credit: Kylie Cooper/The Texas Tribune

After the bans

Last week, Gallegos sat at the front desk of Tulsa Women’s Clinic, the sister clinic to Alamo Women’s Reproductive Services, looking out at the waiting room. For months, every chair had been occupied as women poured over the state line, seeking abortions they couldn’t get in Texas.

But in late May, Oklahoma passed a law banning abortion from the moment of fertilization, and ever since, the room has been empty.

Early on, the clinic fielded a lot of phone calls and encouraged callers to come in for a sonogram, to see how far along they were and learn about their options, limited as they might be. The clinic can help connect patients with funding to help them travel out of state, and provide follow-up care when they return.

A few people who came in were less than six weeks pregnant, so in a role reversal, staff sent them to clinics in Texas for abortion care.

“A lot of people who come to our clinics, this is the first time they’ve seen a physician about their pregnancy,” Gallegos said. “This is their first sonogram. They may decide they want to continue the pregnancy, but they don’t have an established OB, so we give referrals for that. We’re a line of support, no matter what they decide.”

But as word has spread about the new law, the phone has stopped ringing.

“It’s really scary,” Gallegos said.

The clinic is keeping the lights on and the staff employed for the time being, but in the long term, it can’t operate an abortion clinic in a state that doesn’t allow abortions.

And soon, it won’t just be Oklahoma. In the coming weeks, the U.S. Supreme Court will rule on a case that is expected to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that established a constitutional protection for abortion early in pregnancy.

If the final ruling aligns with a draft version that was leaked in early May, it will be up to each state to set its own laws around abortion. More than half of all states, including Texas and Oklahoma, are expected to outlaw the procedure.

After decades of fighting to stay open, abortion clinics in those states will likely have to close their doors. But as the last nine months — and the last few decades — in Texas have shown, the demand for abortion care won’t disappear quite as easily.

A staff member wears a shirt in support of Dr. Alan Braid at Alamo Women’s Reproductive Services in San Antonio on June 14, 2022.

Credit: Kylie Cooper/The Texas Tribune

Dr. Alan Braid, abortion provider and owner of Alamo Women’s Reproductive Services in San Antonio, sits in his office for a portrait on June 14, 2022.

Credit: Kylie Cooper/The Texas Tribune

First: A staff member at Alamo Women’s Reproductive Services wears a shirt in support of Dr. Alan Braid. Last: “We’ve always been ready for whatever comes our way,” says Braid, the clinic’s owner and an abortion provider. Credit: Kylie Cooper/The Texas Tribune

50 years of fighting

As a young medical resident in San Antonio, Dr. Alan Braid was called on to treat a 16-year-old girl who’d arrived at the emergency room after a botched, illegal abortion. She was in sepsis, her vagina packed with rags, the smell of infection so overpowering that Braid backed out of the room, gagging.

She died a few days later.

This was 1973, a few months after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Roe v. Wade. Abortion clinics were not yet widespread, and many women continued to seek illegal abortions. Braid couldn’t stomach the idea that women were dying over what should have been, even at that time, a simple and safe medical procedure.

Braid started working part time providing abortions at a clinic in the area. Eventually, he took over ownership of Alamo Women’s Reproductive Services and Tulsa Women’s Clinic.

The San Antonio clinic is a testament to the hoops Braid has had to jump through to continue to provide abortions. In 2013, the state passed an omnibus abortion law that, in part, required clinics to comply with onerous building requirements.

Braid joined a legal challenge seeking to overturn parts of the law, but he also spent $3 million building a new clinic that complied with the new requirements. It opened on the same day the U.S. Supreme Court blocked the law from being enforced.

“We were ready, though, in case the ruling didn’t come down our way,” he said. “And I never regretted it, because we’ve been able to treat more patients and more serious cases.”

When state lawmakers passed Senate Bill 8 in 2021, which banned abortions after about six weeks, Braid was the only provider in Texas to openly violate the law, hoping to generate a lawsuit that would get it overturned. He was sued three times, but more than nine months later, those cases are stalled and the law remains in effect.

In hindsight, he regrets performing one abortion in violation of the law. He wishes, instead, he had performed many, more more.

“It would have been risky, but I’m more and more convinced that the law would have been done in a month if I’d just kept providing abortions as usual,” Braid said.

Now, once again, he’s considering his next move. If the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, the clinics in Oklahoma and Texas will close. He’s considered relocating to New Mexico or Colorado, or finding a Native American tribe that would let him open a clinic on tribal lands. A friend suggested commandeering a ship and heading for international waters.

But he’s in his late 70s now, and starting over is easier said than done. There was a time, in the early days after Roe v. Wade, when he and colleagues believed abortions might become a commonplace medical procedure that you could access at your OB-GYN’s office.

The state’s crusade to eliminate abortion access has only provided Braid with more and more evidence that this kind of care is a necessity. Women drive hours to make their appointments. They come back, again and again, until they can get treated. They bring their kids, and miss work. They sit in his exam room, wracked with sobs, when they’re turned away.

Women sit in the waiting room after their appointments at Alamo Women’s Reproductive Services in San Antonio on June 14, 2022.

Women sat in the waiting room Tuesday after their appointments at Alamo Women’s Reproductive Services in San Antonio. Credit: Kylie Cooper/The Texas Tribune

Unbidden, they tell him their stories. They’re in abusive marriages. They’ve been raped. They’re on their way to college. They’re already struggling to feed the kids they have. They’re undocumented and can’t leave the state.

These women are often desperate and always resourceful, so he’s certain they’ll continue to find ways to access abortion care. Some will leave the state, or the country. Some will obtain abortion-inducing medication online. Some will turn to more desperate measures.

For decades, abortion clinics have been just as resilient as the patients they serve.

“We’ve always been ready for whatever comes our way,” Braid said. “It’s never been easy. But I also never, ever, ever thought Roe would be overturned. Ever.”


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This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2022/06/17/dobbs-supreme-court-abortion-texas/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

Judge temporarily blocks some Texas investigations into gender-affirming care for trans kids

For LGBTQ mental health support, call the Trevor Project’s 24/7 toll-free support line at 866-488-7386. You can also reach a trained crisis counselor through the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by calling 800-273-8255 or texting 741741.
An Austin judge has temporarily stopped the state from investigating many parents who provide gender-affirming care to their transgender children. The state has ruled out allegations of child abuse against one family under investigation, but at least eight more cases remain open.

Travis County District Judge Jan Soifer issued a temporary restraining order Friday in a lawsuit filed on behalf of three families and members of PFLAG, an LGBTQ advocacy group that claims more than 600 members in Texas.

Brian K. Bond, executive director of PFLAG National, applauded the decision to stop what he called “invasive, unnecessary and unnerving investigations.”

“However, let’s be clear: These investigations into loving and affirming families shouldn’t be happening in the first place,” Bond said in a statement.

[Parents of a trans child who reached out to Attorney General Ken Paxton over dinner are now under investigation for child abuse]

This is the latest chapter in an ongoing legal battle stemming from a February order issued by Gov. Greg Abbott, directing the Department of Family and Protective Services to investigate parents who provide gender-affirming care to their transgender children.

The Texas Supreme Court recently blocked the state from investigating one family, which had brought a lawsuit challenging the directive, but overturned a wider injunction that stopped the state from investigating other families.

This new lawsuit, filed Wednesday by the American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal, seeks to block investigations into all parents of transgender children who belong to PFLAG.

During Friday’s hearing, Lambda Legal’s Paul Castillo revealed that the state has ruled out allegations of child abuse against Amber and Adam Briggle, who were under investigation for providing gender-affirming care to their 14-year-old son.

The Briggle family, outspoken advocates for transgender rights, once invited Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton over for dinner. Five years later, they ended up at the center of a child abuse investigation that stemmed, in part, from a nonbinding legal opinion that Paxton issued in February.

While their case has been closed, many others remain ongoing. Castillo said one of the families involved in the lawsuit was visited by DFPS investigators Friday morning.

“I do want to highlight for the court that every plaintiff in this case has illustrated the stress and trauma of even the potential of having a child removed, merely based on the suspicion that the family has pursued the medically necessary course of care that is prescribed by their doctor for gender dysphoria,” Castillo said.

Gender-affirming care is recommended by all major medical associations to treat gender dysphoria, the distress someone can feel when their gender identity does not align with their biological sex. Gender dysphoria can be exacerbated as a child approaches puberty, so doctors often prescribe reversible puberty blockers and, sometimes, hormone therapy. More than half of all transgender youth report considering suicide, but the rates are much lower for those who are able to access gender-affirming health care.

The mental health impact of Abbott’s directive has already been clear, according to the lawsuit. One 16-year-old transgender boy, identified in the suit as Antonio Voe, attempted to kill himself after the directive came down. When he was admitted to an outpatient psychiatric facility, the staff reported his family to DPFS for child abuse because he was undergoing hormone therapy, according to the lawsuit.

In the hearing, Assistant Attorney General Courtney Corbello revisited the state’s argument that merely being under investigation by DFPS does not constitute harm to a family.

She also argued that PFLAG cannot bring this legal challenge on behalf of its members since there is no evidence that PFLAG members are being targeted for investigation based on their membership in the association.

Soifer disagreed, granting the temporary restraining order on behalf of the three named plaintiffs and PFLAG members. Soifer directed the lawyers to schedule a hearing in the coming days, where a judge will hear evidence and decide whether to extend the restraining order.


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This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2022/06/10/texas-gender-affirming-care-child-abuse/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

250 major Texas GOP donors urge Republicans to back John Cornyn’s gun safety efforts: report

Major Republican donors, including some that have contributed to Gov. Greg Abbott’s campaigns, joined other conservative Texans in signing an open letter supporting congressional action to increase gun restrictions in response to the mass shooting in Uvalde that left 19 children and two teachers dead last week.

The letter, which is expected to run as a full-page ad in the Dallas Morning News on Sunday, endorses the creation of red flag laws, expanding background checks and raising the age to purchase a gun to 21. More than 250 self-declared gun enthusiasts signed it.

“Most law enforcement experts believe these measures would make a difference,” the letter reads. “And recent polls of fellow conservatives suggest that there is strong support for such gun-safety measures.”

The letter voices support for Texas’ senior senator, John Cornyn, who has been tapped to lead bipartisan negotiations in Congress over possible gun reform measures.

“We are grateful that our Senator John Cornyn is leading efforts to address the recent tragedies in Uvalde and elsewhere across our great Country,” the letter says. “He’s the right man to lead this bipartisan effort, as he has demonstrated throughout his career.”

In an interview with Politico, Cornyn stressed that he was not interested in “restricting the rights of law-abiding citizens under the Second Amendment,” but said it would be “embarrassing” if Uvalde didn’t spark Congress to reach some sort of bipartisan legislative response.

The letter was paid for by Todd Maclin, a former senior executive at J.P. Morgan Chase who now runs the Dallas-based finance firm Maclin Management. Maclin said he is a conservative gun owner who has been stirred to action by the shooting in Uvalde.

“These events have really motivated me and really gotten under my skin and encouraged me to support the effort that’s underway,” Maclin told The Texas Tribune. “I just felt like I needed to do something, and I also believe that there are reasonable things that can be done.”

He said he is still hearing from more conservative gun owners who are feeling a “great sense of urgency and a great need to support [Cornyn] as he does his best to address these issues.”

Maclin said the group is focusing on federal legislation, which he believes is the best avenue to passing gun safety laws and ensuring they are applied uniformly across the country. He declined to comment on the state response to the shooting or gun legislation, except to say that he hopes any federal plan led by Cornyn and passed with conservative support would be embraced by state governments.

Among the signatories are deep-pocketed Abbott supporters, including billionaires Robert Rowling, whose holding company owns Omni Hotels, and Ray L. Hunt, executive chairman of Hunt Consolidated Inc.

The contents of the letter are in line with policies Abbott and other party leaders, including Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, have supported in the past — though not the ones they are endorsing now.

After the 2018 school shooting in Santa Fe, outside Houston, Abbott supported “red flag” laws, which would allow local officials to take someone’s guns away if a judge declares them to be a danger. He later dropped his support for the measure, citing a “coalescence” against it from his own party.

The next year, after back-to-back mass shootings in El Paso and Midland-Odessa, Patrick said he was “willing to take an arrow” from the National Rifle Association and support expanding background checks.

The next time the Legislature met, however, lawmakers instead passed a law that allows Texans to carry a handgun without a license or training.

This time, neither Patrick nor Abbott have expressed any support for tightening gun laws. They have instead offered suggestions that have ranged from expanding mental health services and minimizing the entrances to school buildings to doing surprise security checks.

On the federal level, both Cornyn and Sen. Ted Cruz have A+ ratings from the NRA and are top Senate recipients of gun industry donations. But they’ve taken differering tacks in response to the shooting in Uvalde.

Cruz said in the wake of the massacre that passing laws that restrict gun access “doesn’t work. It’s not effective. It doesn’t prevent crime.” But Cornyn has shown a willingness, now and in the past, to support some bipartisan gun legislation.

In the wake of the 2017 Sutherland Springs shooting outside San Antonio, Cornyn worked with Democratic colleagues to improve the background check system to prevent felons and domestic abusers from purchasing firearms.

He has also supported banning “bump stocks,” which allow semi automatic guns to fire faster, and shepherded into law a bill that funded the screening and treatment of offenders with mental illness.

After last week’s shooting, Cornyn has said he’s “not interested in making a political statement,” but is focused on making “the terrible events that occurred in Uvalde less likely in the future.”

Texas resumes investigations into parents of trans children, families’ lawyers confirm

Texas’ child welfare agency has resumed at least some of its investigations into parents who provide gender-affirming care to their transgender children. Last week, the state Supreme Court overturned an injunction blocking the state from investigating these parents for child abuse.

On Thursday, nearly a week after the ruling, investigators with the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services began contacting lawyers representing some of these families to tell them they will be continuing the investigations.

“They reached back out and said they need to finish their investigations,” said Tracy Harting, an Austin-based attorney who is representing a family in the Central Texas area. “I’ve talked to my clients, and now they have to decide how they want to proceed.”

Ian Pittman, an Austin attorney representing a family in Central Texas and a family in North Texas, said he heard Thursday from a DFPS employee about resuming one of those cases — but has not yet received an update on the other.

Both Pittman and Harting said their clients have been preparing for this since the state Supreme Court overturned the injunction last Friday. But the same ruling that allowed these investigations to proceed also raised questions about whether they should have been opened in the first place.

These cases began in February, after Attorney General Ken Paxton issued a nonbinding legal opinion that equated certain medical treatments and procedures for transgender teens with child abuse. Gov. Greg Abbott, citing that opinion, then sent a letter to DFPS directing the agency to investigate parents who provided gender-affirming care to their transgender children.

In a statement responding to the order in February, DFPS said it would “follow Texas law” as laid out in Paxton’s opinion, “[i]n accordance with Governor Abbott’s directive.” The agency proceeded to open at least nine investigations into parents of transgender children.

But the state Supreme Court ruling said that while Abbott and Paxton were “within their rights to state their legal and policy views on this topic … DFPS was not compelled by law to follow them.”

“DFPS’s press statement, however, suggests that DFPS may have considered itself bound by either the Governor’s letter, the Attorney General’s Opinion, or both. Again, nothing before this Court supports the notion that DFPS is so bound,” the ruling said.

That ruling left the ball in DFPS’ court to decide whether and how to continue the ongoing investigations. On Thursday, the department said only that the agency “treats all reports of abuse, neglect, and exploitation seriously and will continue to investigate each to the full extent of the law.”

But as the Supreme Court ruling explained, nothing in Paxton’s opinion or Abbott’s directive changed the legal definition of abuse or neglect to include gender-affirming care that is prescribed by a medical professional.

Lawyers and the families they represent are waiting to see what happens after these cases resume.

“The question now is, is the commissioner going to be a child welfare law professional, or a politician?” Harting asked. “Are they going to close out these cases, or are they going to be giving these families hell?”

Impact on families

At least nine families are under investigation for providing gender-affirming care to their children. These investigations have included home visits, family interviews and, in some cases, surprise visits to children’s schools.

“These are not just nameless, faceless people this is impacting,” Pittman said. “It’s normal, everyday people who are just doing what is right by their children.”

But since the initial flurry of investigative activity, the cases have stagnated as a result of the statewide injunction — open, but without investigations proceeding. Lawyers for the families allege that this violates department policy on several fronts.

Child Protective Services policy requires a caseworker to make face-to-face contact with the children whose parents are under investigation at least every 45 days, which several lawyers said has not happened in their cases.

If parents under investigation for child abuse or neglect request status updates on their cases, state regulations require the department to respond within 14 days. Emails provided by Pittman show him requesting a clarification of status on behalf of one of the families he represents on April 1 and April 21, with no response from the department.

Pittman said he’s talked with his clients about bringing legal action against the department for violating its policies in these cases. While he believes they’d have a case, he also understands that his clients have already been witness to the full legal firepower of the state pointed directly at them.

“The state basically has unlimited resources, whereas these families just don’t,” he said. “We’ve seen what they’ve done with the ACLU [American Civil Liberties Union] lawsuit, appealing it to the Court of Appeals, and even to the [Texas] Supreme Court. That could take months, or years, and tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees.”

Their next move, legally, will likely be influenced by the agency’s next moves, administratively.

“I tell people, God and CPS, those are the two entities that have the power to give you children and take them away, so these investigations are a big deal,” Harting said. “These families have a right to due process.”

Texas Supreme Court allows child abuse investigations into families of transgender teens to continue

By Eleanor Klibanoff, The Texas Tribune

May 13, 2022

Texas’ child welfare agency remains blocked from investigating the family of a transgender teen that sued the state in March, but can once again investigate other families that provide gender-affirming care after the Supreme Court of Texas struck down a statewide injunction Friday.

Though it overturned the injunction on procedural grounds, the high court raised questions about why the Department of Family and Protective Services opened these investigations in the first place. The court affirmed in Friday’s ruling that neither Attorney General Ken Paxton nor Gov. Greg Abbott had any grounds to direct the agency’s actions.

In February, Paxton issued a nonbinding legal opinion that equated certain medical treatments and procedures for transgender teens with child abuse. Abbott, citing that opinion, then sent a letter to DFPS directing the agency to investigate parents who provided gender-affirming care to their transgender children.

In a statement responding to the order, DFPS said it would “follow Texas law” as laid out in Paxton’s opinion, “[i]n accordance with Governor Abbott’s directive.” The agency proceeded to open at least nine investigations into parents of transgender children.

“The Governor and the Attorney General were certainly well within their rights to state their legal and policy views on this topic, but DFPS was not compelled by law to follow them,” Friday’s ruling reads. “DFPS’s press statement, however, suggests that DFPS may have considered itself bound by either the Governor’s letter, the Attorney General’s Opinion, or both. Again, nothing before this Court supports the notion that DFPS is so bound.”

The ruling does note the myriad “informal mechanisms” through which elected officials can influence a state agency, but “ultimately, however, one department or another has the final say.”

In this case, the ruling said, DFPS was responsible for deciding whether these investigations aligned with current state regulations — and will now have to decide whether to continue these investigations and allow new ones to be opened.

DFPS employees have told The Texas Tribune that agency leadership has acknowledged that these investigations do not meet the current requirements for child abuse and have said policy would need to be generated to match the governor’s directives.

In March, a district judge granted an injunction blocking the state from continuing these investigations or opening new ones. Paxton appealed that decision to the Third Court of Appeals, which reinstated the statewide temporary injunction.

He then petitioned the Supreme Court of Texas to review that appeal. In Friday’s ruling, the high court agreed with Paxton that the appeals court overstepped — while the appeals court can reinstate an injunction if it “preserves the parties’ rights,” they cannot reinstate a temporary injunction of any nature.

In this case, the justices ruled, the “parties” are the family that sued the state initially — not all parents of all transgender children.

Ian Pittman, an Austin attorney representing two families of transgender children that are under investigation for child abuse, said the injunction had allowed his clients to “breathe a sigh of relief” while their investigations were paused. Although the investigations can resume, he’s hopeful that DFPS will now close out the cases.

“This ruling reaffirms that [DFPS Commissioner Jaime Masters] acted improperly when she acknowledged the directive and said they would follow it,” he said. “She was abdicating her responsibilities as commissioner to a political stunt that has no legal authority.”

If DFPS does not close out the cases, he expects other families may consider bringing suits to get any investigations against them similarly blocked.

In a statement, Lambda Legal and the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas called the ruling “a win for our clients and the rule of law.”

“It would be unconscionable for DFPS to continue these lawless investigations while this lawsuit continues, and we will not stop fighting to protect the safety and lives of transgender youth here in Texas,” the statement said.

DFPS did not immediately respond to request for comment.

This story will be updated.


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This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2022/05/13/transgender-teens-child-abuse-texas/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

With Roe v. Wade on the line, some Texans look south of the border for abortion drugs

By Eleanor Klibanoff, Mitchell Ferman and Uriel J. García, The Texas Tribune

NUEVO PROGRESO, Mexico — Maria laid the pregnancy test facedown on the counter in her boyfriend’s bathroom in McAllen and set a timer for the longest three minutes of her life.

She watched the timer tick down, mentally running through her litany of reassurances: They’d used a condom; she’d taken the Plan B pill; maybe her missed period was just an anomaly.

“I was just praying, please don’t let this be the case,” she said. “I had no idea how I’d navigate the situation. But what can I do but flip this test over?”

It was positive.

Maria, who was a 17-year-old high school junior at the time, spoke with The Texas Tribune on the condition of anonymity and is identified in this story with a pseudonym because she fears repercussions from her family for sharing her experience.

Maria came from generations of teenage mothers, and while her Catholic parents didn’t talk with her much about sex, they were clear they had different expectations for her. They wanted her to leave the area for college to pursue her dreams of studying law.

She couldn’t have the baby, she decided.

It was October 2020, a year before Texas would implement the most restrictive abortion law in the country, and 18 months before a draft opinion obtained by Politico revealed that the U.S. Supreme Court plans to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark case that established constitutional protections for abortion.

But even before all that, Maria had few options to access legal abortion care. There is only one clinic in the Rio Grande Valley, and she would need to get parental consent or a judicial bypass granted by a court. Even finding the money to pay for a legal abortion seemed impossible.

But living along the border presented another option.

Cheap regulated and unregulated medication is available over the counter at Mexican pharmacies, just a short walk away on the other side of the border. Rio Grande Valley residents and people from all corners of the state often cross into Mexico to get dental work or stock up on anything from daily vitamins and epinephrine to Valium and Xanax.

And then there’s misoprostol, a medication taken orally to prevent stomach ulcers — or terminate pregnancies.

Texas regulates abortion-inducing drugs like misoprostol more strictly than federal regulations require; they can be prescribed and dispensed only in-person by a doctor through the first seven weeks of pregnancy.

Just over the border, though, it’s a different story.

With the constitutional protection for abortion on the line in the U.S., reproductive rights advocates expect to see more Texans traveling to Mexico to get abortion-inducing drugs they can’t obtain legally at home.

But despite the ease of access, abortion is still highly stigmatized in heavily Catholic communities on both sides of the border, representing a risk for patients who may need to seek medical care after a self-managed abortion.

Maria first learned about self-managed abortions online. She knew she could get the pills from a pharmacy over the border much more easily than she could access a legal abortion in Texas.

“I was definitely concerned about the legality of it,” Maria said. “But I also knew, chances are, it will be fine and I had to do it.”

Across the border

Jesus, Pope John Paul II and the Virgin of Guadalupe look down on customers buying abortion-inducing medication at Uncle Sam Pharmacy in Nuevo Progreso, a Mexican border town along the banks of the Rio Grande about 25 miles away from McAllen.

The portraits hang over the shelves of medication inside the pharmacy, just one reminder of how intertwined religion and everyday life is in the region. But Victor Olvera, the pharmacy’s manager, knows that no matter the religious views of many in the border area, there will always be customers looking to terminate their pregnancies.

Victor Olvera puts two pharmaceutical drugs meant to be taken for ulcers back on the shelf at the Uncle Sam Pharmacy in Nuevo Progreso, Mexico on May 4, 2022.

Victor Olvera puts two pharmaceutical drugs meant to be taken for ulcers back on the shelf. Uncle Sam Pharmacy. Nuevo Progreso, MX. May 4, 2022. Credit: Jason Garza for The Texas Tribune

Victor Olvera holds two pharmaceutical drugs meant to be taken for ulcers. Uncle Sam Pharmacy. Nuevo Progreso, Mexico. May 4, 2022.

Victor Olvera holds two pharmaceutical drugs meant to be taken for ulcers. Uncle Sam Pharmacy. Nuevo Progreso, Mexico. May 4, 2022. Credit: Jason Garza for The Texas Tribune

First: Pharmacy manager Victor Olvera puts boxes of drugs back on the shelf at the Uncle Sam Pharmacy in Nuevo Progreso, Mexico, on Wednesday. Last: Olvera holds two pharmaceutical drugs taken to prevent stomach ulcers. The medication is also commonly used to terminate pregnancies. Credit: Jason Garza for The Texas Tribune

Olvera expects that changes to abortion access in the U.S. will mean more business at Uncle Sam Pharmacy.

“The law is going to change and there will be more people coming,” Olvera said.

He doesn’t plan to stock up on more misoprostol just yet — he said he will wait and see. The medication is cheap to buy: Some pharmacies in Nuevo Progreso sell generic misoprostol for as low as $20, while name brands such as Pfizer tend to go for more than $140. Pharmacists at seven different locations said this week they have not received complaints over the years about complications from the medication.

Misoprostol is 80% to 95% effective at terminating early pregnancies by itself. In the United States, it’s approved by the Food and Drug Administration to be used alongside mifepristone to terminate pregnancies up to 10 weeks along.

While U.S. regulators have approved only the two-drug regimen, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the World Health Organization both endorse the use of misoprostol alone if a patient can’t access mifepristone. Studies have found misoprostol to be generally safe and effective for terminating early pregnancies.

But that doesn’t mean all pharmacies in Mexico like to stock the drug on their shelves.

“I don’t want to sell this,” said Miguel Hernandez, a pharmacist at Pharmacy Rivera who noted that several customers come to his shop looking for the pills each week. “But if a customer asks if we have the medication, we have to sell it.”

Even before Texas banned abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy last year, people have turned to Mexican pharmacies for years to quietly and discreetly terminate their pregnancies.

Maria and her boyfriend convinced a family member to buy the medication for them at a pharmacy over the border. A few days later, she had it in hand.

Following instructions she found online, she took the medication alone in her bathroom. She experienced terrible cramping, she said, and what felt like a very heavy period for several days. The online guide told her what to do if she had to seek medical care, but she ultimately was able to manage the side effects at home.

“I immediately felt such a sense of relief,” she said. “Being a mother, that wasn’t something I was ready for and it wasn’t something I was willing to do. It was just not an option for me.”

Religion in the region

On Wednesday morning, Valerio García, a 69-year-old car mechanic, stood in front of Whole Woman’s Health, McAllen’s only abortion clinic. He wore black slacks, a beige button-down shirt with a rosary hanging from his neck and a cowboy hat with a Virgin of Guadalupe pin on it.

Amelio García, 69, who is a mechanic, in front of the Whole Woman’s Health clinic in McAllen on Wednesday, May 4, 2022. García shares that his daughter was told that her son was going to be born without certain organs and that they recommended that she had an abortion. They both prayed and the baby was born healthy. He also says that later on they found out that his grandson has mild autism. For around seven years he has been going to the Whole Woman’s Health clinic to pray. “It is rare, but there have been woman that get out of this place crying not wanting to have an abortion. Our job is to bear witness, to be present.”

Valerio García, 69, prays in front of the Whole Woman’s Health clinic in McAllen on Wednesday. Credit: Verónica G. Cárdenas for The Texas Tribune

The clinic, a one-story building with security cameras near the entrance in the city’s downtown, is also the only abortion provider in the U.S. along the 1,200-mile long Texas-Mexico border.

For the past seven years, García said he has joined a group of religious men who show up every Saturday morning near the entrance of the clinic to pray for the women looking to get an abortion. He said the men pray that God can intervene and change the women’s minds about their plans to abort.

“I think there are people who go through this process because it’s been normalized and they lack information,” he said. “But they don’t realize there are repercussions both physically and mentally.”

If the U.S. Supreme Court were to overturn the constitutional protection for abortion rights, he said he would welcome it.

García, who is Catholic, said he opposes the procedure because his first grandson was at risk of being aborted. If his daughter had heeded the doctor’s option to abort, García would have missed out on the love of his grandchild, he said.

Amelio García, 69, who is a mechanic, shows a photo of his first grandson, in McAllen, Texas on Wednesday, May 4, 2022. García shares that his daughter was told that her son was going to be born without certain organs and that they recommended that she had an abortion. They both prayed and the baby was born healthy. He also says that later on they found out that his grandson has mild autism. For around seven years he has been going to the Whole Woman’s Health clinic to pray. “It is rare, but there have been woman that get out of this place crying not wanting to have an abortion. Our job is to bear witness, to be present.”</p data-verified=

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Amelio García, 69, who is a mechanic, poses for a photo in front of the Whole Woman’s Health clinic in McAllen, Texas on Wednesday, May 4, 2022. Credit: Verónica G. Cárdenas for The Texas Tribune

Amelio García, 69, who is a mechanic, poses for a photo in front of the Whole Woman’s Health clinic in McAllen, Texas on Wednesday, May 4, 2022. García shares that his daughter was told that her son was going to be born without certain organs and that they recommended that she had an abortion. They both prayed and the baby was born healthy. He also says that later on they found out that his grandson has mild autism. For around seven years he has been going to the Whole Woman’s Health clinic to pray. “It is rare, but there have been woman that get out of this place crying not wanting to have an abortion. Our job is to bear witness, to be present.”</p data-verified=

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Amelio García, 69, who is a mechanic, poses for a photo in front of the Whole Woman’s Health clinic in McAllen, Texas on Wednesday, May 4, 2022. Credit: Verónica G. Cárdenas for The Texas Tribune

First: Valerio García shows a photo of his first grandson. Last: García’s rosary hangs from his neck. Credit: Verónica G. Cárdenas for The Texas Tribune

He said his daughter was three months pregnant with her first child when a doctor told her the baby’s organs were not developing properly. The doctor presented abortion as an option. García said she turned to him for advice. He prayed for her and she decided to go through with the pregnancy.

The boy is now 13 years old and healthy, he said.

“For me, this story tells me that babies have life in the mother’s womb,” he said, holding his phone up to show a picture of his grandson sitting in front of a piano.

The population in Hidalgo County, where McAllen is located, is mostly Hispanic, and many of its residents identify as Catholic. The Catholic Church has opposed abortion because its doctrine teaches that life starts at the moment of conception.

But south of the border and across Latin America — a region known historically for its Catholic faith and social conservatism — feminist movements have spurred monumental changes for reproductive rights. In recent years, three of the region’s four most populous countries have shifted on the issue: Argentina legalized abortion in 2020, Mexico decriminalized abortion in 2021 and Colombia decriminalized it in February.

Nancy Cárdenas Peña, the Texas director for policy and advocacy at the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice, said that regardless of religious influence, reproductive rights advocates have made great strides in helping Valley residents understand that the right to an abortion is a women’s health issue and not a religious and moral issue.

She pointed to Edinburg, a city just north of McAllen where last July advocates stopped the city from adopting an ordinance that would have made it illegal to perform or help someone get an abortion.

“I think at the end of the day, the simple values-based messaging stance is that everyone loves someone who’s had an abortion,” Cárdenas Peña said. “That’s very true and very simple.”

Reproductive rights advocates in the Rio Grande Valley also have different religious values, she said, but they ultimately believe in bodily autonomy.

Barriers to access

The Rio Grande Valley has long struggled with unique challenges to accessing reproductive health care. While some Texans may consider traveling out of state to access legal abortions, that’s not an option for the region’s many undocumented immigrants, Cárdenas Peña said.

There are immigration checkpoints driving out of the Valley to go elsewhere in the state, and it’s common for immigration officers to be at the airport asking for people’s documentation. While some Valley residents can travel to Mexico for misoprostol, undocumented people won’t be able to return legally to the U.S. if they were to go south for the pill.

“Do people attend their abortion appointments? Or do they risk being placed in deportation proceedings?” Cárdenas Peña said.

Nancy Cárdenas, 31, state director for policy and advocacy for the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice, in McAllen on Wednesday, May 4, 2022. “The State does not have the infrastructure to support family planning the way that they would like to talk about. Instead they are giving millions of dollars to the alternatives to abortion program which is crisis pregnancy centers that actually don’t offer medical services, don’t have medical providers, or staff. It’s basically just centers to steer you away from getting access to abortion care.”

Nancy Cárdenas Peña, 31, state director for policy and advocacy for the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice, in McAllen on Wednesday. “I think at the end of the day, the simple values-based messaging stance is that everyone loves someone who’s had an abortion,” Cárdenas Peña said. Credit: Verónica G. Cárdenas for The Texas Tribune

Noemi Pratt, a board member with South Texans for Reproductive Justice, said the recent case of a 26-year-old woman who was charged with murder after what authorities described as a self-induced abortion in the neighboring Starr County had a chilling effect on the Valley.

Her charge was dropped, but with new limits on abortion seemingly on the horizon, “people can get the wrong idea about what they can and can’t do,” Pratt said.

“We’ve gotten a lot of calls from people asking if they should be going to their abortion appointments,” Pratt said.

Maria, the South Texas woman who terminated her pregnancy a year and a half ago, says she has no regrets. After her abortion, she was accepted to college out of state and though she and her boyfriend broke up, it was on good terms.

She’s never told her parents or any of her friends that she’s had an abortion. She doesn’t think she ever will.

Now, with the Supreme Court’s draft opinion making it clear that abortion access is likely to be eviscerated in Texas and large swaths of the nation, Maria finds herself thinking more and more about how lucky she was to live near the border.

“There’s so many people in the same state that live five hours away from Mexico … and it’s going to be a lot harder” to access abortion care, she said. “They’re probably going to face more detrimental consequences.”

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This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2022/05/06/south-texas-mexico-abortion-drugs/.

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If Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, Texas will completely ban abortion

"If Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, Texas will completely ban abortion" was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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According to a draft opinion obtained by Politico, the U.S. Supreme Court intends to overturn Roe v. Wade, reversing nearly 50 years of constitutional protection for abortion, and let states set their own restrictions on the procedure.

If this draft reflects the final decision of the Court, expected this summer, it would virtually eliminate abortion access in Texas. Last year, the Legislature passed a so-called “trigger law” that would go into effect 30 days after the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, making performing abortion a felony.

The law would make an exception only to save the life of the pregnant patient or if they risk “substantial impairment of major bodily function.” Doctors could face life in prison and fines up to $100,000 if they perform abortions in violation of the law.

It’s unclear how closely the court's final ruling will hew to the draft opinion, the publication of which is unprecedented in the history of the court.

The case before the U.S. Supreme Court centers on a ban in Mississippi on abortions after 15 weeks. Since the 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade, the court has consistently struck down bans on abortion before viability, the point at which a fetus could likely survive outside the womb, usually seen as 22 to 24 weeks of pregnancy. The 1992 decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey upheld Roe v. Wade and ruled that states could not impose restrictions that created an “undue burden” on pregnant people seeking an abortion.

But with this Mississippi case, the court and its new conservative majority agreed to reconsider the precedent set by Roe v. Wade. While some court watchers predicted that they might uphold the 15-week ban but leave aspects of the precedent in place, this draft opinion indicates they intend to eviscerate both Roe and Casey.

“We hold that Roe and Casey must be overruled,” the draft obtained by Politico reads. “It is time to heed the Constitution and return the issue of abortion to the people’s elected representatives.”

This draft does not change anything about the legal status of abortion in Texas at this moment. The state has banned abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy through a unique civil enforcement mechanism that has, so far, withstood judicial review.

Amy Hagstrom Miller, president and CEO of Whole Woman’s Health, which operates four clinics in Texas, said they have been providing abortions up to that six-week mark since the Texas law went into effect Sept. 1, and they will keep providing abortions as long as it’s legal. She said it’s critical for people to realize that this is not a final ruling.

“When news like this comes out, it confuses people and scares people, and I think there are people who will read these stories and think that abortion is already illegal,” said Hagstrom Miller. “I think it’s important for us to speak to these people and let them know this isn’t final, and at least for now we can still offer them the care they deserve.”

Abortion opponents in Texas are cautiously optimistic about the release of this draft ruling. Joe Pojman, executive director of the Texas Alliance for Life, said it’s “encouraging,” but he’s still holding his breath.

“We’ve been burnt before,” said Pojman, “I’m waiting to see the final opinion.”

In 1992, then-Justice Anthony Kennedy, a conservative, had indicated that he was going to vote with the majority of the court to overturn Roe in Planned Parenthood v. Casey. Then he changed his mind, and the court voted to uphold the ruling.

“Assuming the draft is legitimate, I’m reminding myself that this is far from the court’s final opinion,” Pojman said. “So it’s encouraging, but it is not definitive in my mind at all."

John Seago, legislative director for Texas Right to Life, said the fight is “not done yet.”

“This was was probably leaked to put pressure on the justices, to cause backlash that would possibly make them take a step back from this categorical victory for the pro-life side,” he said. “That’s what we’re concerned about, and [we] won’t fully celebrate until we see the final opinion actually released.”

University of Texas law professor Liz Sepper also cautioned against certainty in the wake of the leak, reiterating that this draft, dated Feb. 10, may not reflect the current or final opinion of the court. But based on the oral arguments of the case in December, she said it wasn’t surprising to see several of the justices endorsing this full-throated rejection of Roe v. Wade.

“This would effectively end abortion access in much of the United States, at least in people’s home states,” she said. “For people in the southern states and the Midwest, it would mean a very long-distance to travel to access abortion.”

More than half of all states are expected to ban abortion if Roe v. Wade is overturned. According to the Guttmacher Institute, an abortion advocacy research group, that would mean the average Texan would have to drive 525 miles, each way, to obtain an abortion.

Sepper said politicians on both sides of the aisle will be closely watching the response to this draft as they prepare to respond to this summer's ruling.

Former Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis said she hopes Democrats, who have been struggling in the polls, capitalize on the outrage that this draft will likely generate.

“Our rage is going to do us absolutely no good if we don’t put our votes behind it,” she added. “And if Democrats cannot use that to their advantage in this election cycle, something’s broken.”

Abby Livingston contributed to this story.

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This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2022/05/02/texas-abortion-law-roe-wade/.

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Former state Sen. Wendy Davis challenges Texas abortion law in court

By Eleanor Klibanoff, The Texas Tribune

April 19, 2022

Former Texas State Sen. Wendy Davis, best known for her 13-hour filibuster of a 2013 abortion bill, has filed a federal lawsuit challenging Texas’ recent abortion law. The suit claims the law is “blatantly unconstitutional” and written to “make a mockery of the federal courts.”

The law, which went into effect in September and empowers private citizens to bring civil lawsuits against anyone who “aids or abets” in an abortion after fetal cardiac activity is detected, has led abortion clinics to stop providing the procedure after about six weeks of pregnancy.

Meanwhile, abortion funds — nonprofit advocacy groups that help pay for abortions and related expenses — have seen increased demand from pregnant Texans seeking care outside the state. This financial support has put these funds in the crosshairs of abortion opponents, who have claimed on social media and in legal filings that abortion fund donors, employees and volunteers are susceptible to lawsuits and criminal charges.

Davis, who was the Democratic nominee for Texas governor in 2014 and unsuccessfully ran for Congress in 2020, donates to and works with the Lilith Fund for Reproductive Equity, an Austin-based abortion fund, according to the lawsuit. She claims in the suit that these threats against donors and volunteers "have had a chilling effect" and stop her from associating with "like-minded people to express her views and achieve her advocacy goals."

She is joined in the suit by the Stigma Relief Fund, an abortion fund associated with abortion provider Whole Woman’s Health, and Marva Sadler and Sean Mehl, who both work for Whole Woman's Health and serve on the board of the Stigma Relief Fund. Sadler and Mehl say in the suit that they have stopped donating to abortion funds "until the Court clarifies whether and to what extent [they] can face liability for doing so."

They are suing state Rep. Briscoe Cain, R-Deer Park, and three private citizens who have made efforts to bring lawsuits against abortion funds. Cain recently sent cease-and-desist letters to all the Texas abortion funds, accusing them of criminal conduct.

In a written response late Tuesday, Cain reiterated statements made in his cease-and-desist letter and repeated his intention to pass legislation next year that would allow district attorneys to prosecute abortion-related crimes outside their home jurisdictions.

The lawsuit filed Tuesday claims that the law violates the plaintiff’s rights to due process and free speech and asks the court to declare both this law and Texas’ older abortion law unenforceable.

“We are asking the courts today to stop the unconstitutional harassment of abortion funds by confirming S.B.8 cannot be used to silence donors with bogus threats,” Davis said in a statement. “More than that, we are asking the courts to stop the nightmare S.B.8 has created for Texans if they need abortion services."

Legal background

In recent months, abortion opponents have accused abortion funds of both civil and criminal impropriety, and the abortion funds have brought their own legal challenges to block the law.

The chief architects of Texas’ new abortion law have asked a state district judge to allow them to depose the leaders of two abortion funds, seeking to “better evaluate the prospects for legal success” in potential lawsuits over illegal abortions.

Anti-abortion advocacy groups including the Thomas More Society have also tweeted at different abortion funds, claiming their donors could face lawsuits. The law specifies that paying for a prohibited abortion constitutes “aiding and abetting,” and someone can be sued “regardless of whether the person knew or should have known that the abortion would be performed or induced in violation” of the law.

Last month, two abortion funds filed federal lawsuits against the anti-abortion advocacy groups that had threatened to bring lawsuits against them.

Recently, Cain claimed that the abortion funds could also face criminal charges under a Texas abortion statute that was declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1973. Cain claimed in his cease-and-desist letter that the law, which was never repealed by lawmakers, was recently reaffirmed when the state passed the new abortion law.

Davis’ lawsuit asks the judge to affirm that the old criminal statute is unenforceable and that the newer law is unconstitutional.

The current law “seeks not only to strip Texans of their fundamental right to make decisions about their pregnancies based on their individual circumstances and religious beliefs, but also to make a mockery of the federal courts,” the lawsuit said.

In December, the U.S. Supreme Court threw out most of the arguments brought by abortion providers to challenge the law, and though a state judge found the law to be unconstitutional, he allowed it to remain in effect.

We can’t wait to welcome you in person and online to the 2022 Texas Tribune Festival, our multiday celebration of big, bold ideas about politics, public policy and the day’s news — all taking place just steps away from the Texas Capitol from Sept. 22-24. When tickets go on sale in May, Tribune members will save big. Donate to join or renew today.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2022/04/19/abortion-texas-wendy-davis/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

Distraught over orders to investigate trans kids’ families, Texas child welfare workers are resigning

Do you work with or for Texas Child Protective Services? We’d like to talk to you. The Texas Tribune is pursuing a number of stories involving the state’s child protective services agency, and we’d like to speak with as many staffers as possible. You can contact reporter Reese Oxner at roxner@texastribune.org or Eleanor Klibanoff at eleanor.klibanoff@texastribune.org. You can also leak us a tip by contacting us over Signal at 512-745-2713.

Morgan Davis, a transgender man, joined Texas’ child welfare agency as an investigator to be the advocate he never had growing up.

Less than a year later, one of the first cases under Gov. Greg Abbott’s order to investigate parents of transgender children landed on his desk.

His supervisors in the Travis County office of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services offered to reassign the case, but maybe, he thought, he was the right person for the job.

“If somebody was going to do it, I’m glad it was me,” Davis said.

He hoped it would be reassuring to the family to see a transgender man at the helm of the investigation. But the family’s lawyer didn’t see it that way.

“She said, ‘I know your intentions are good. But by walking in that door, as a representative for the state, you are saying in a sense that you condone this, that you agree with it,’” Davis said.

“It hit me like a thunderbolt. It’s true,” he said. “By me being there, for even a split second, a child could think they’ve done something wrong.”

Davis resigned shortly after. Since the directive went into effect, each member of his four-person unit has put in their notice as well.

While the attorney general’s office has gone to great lengths to defend the governor’s directive in court, the agency responsible for carrying out the investigations has been roiled by resistance and resignations as employees struggle with ethical questions they’ve never faced before.

More than half a dozen child abuse investigators told The Texas Tribune that they either have resigned or are actively job hunting as a result of the directive.

A spokesperson for DFPS declined to comment on the resignations or answer specific questions, citing pending litigation.

“In all investigations we follow state law to determine if abuse or neglect has occurred, and we will continue to do so,” the department said in a statement.

The employees, most of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect their jobs, said they feel conflicted — unwilling to undertake what they see as discriminatory investigations and critical of the agency’s internal response to requests for guidance, but haunted by what a mass exodus of experienced child abuse investigators would mean for the state’s most vulnerable children.

“Things are already slipping through the cracks. … We will see investigations that get closed where intervention could have occurred,” one supervisor said. “And children will die in Texas.”

Morgan Davis gave notice of his resignation on April 4, 2022, at the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.

Morgan Davis gave notice of his resignation on April 4. “If this is the hill I go out on, I’m proud to do it,” Davis said. Credit: Lauren Witte/The Texas Tribune

A “heartbreaking” investigation

From the moment he got the case, Davis felt the conflict acutely. He joined DFPS to help children facing abuse and neglect, not children receiving medical care under the direction of a doctor — medical care that made such a difference in his own life.

Gender-affirming care is endorsed by all the major medical associations as the proper treatment for gender dysphoria, the distress someone can feel when their assigned sex doesn’t align with their gender identity. While many young people focus on social transition — dressing differently or using different pronouns — some are prescribed puberty blockers, which are reversible, or hormone therapy.

[What is gender-affirming medical care for transgender children? Here’s what you need to know.]

Davis felt the directive was an unnecessary overreach — he knew firsthand the care and caution that doctors take when prescribing treatments for gender dysphoria.

Even the person who made the child abuse report didn’t seem to agree with the directive: Davis said they were sobbing on the phone, distraught that they were reporting the family, but the person was mandated by law to report child abuse and feared the consequences of not making a report.

“[They] said to me, ‘Just promise me you’ll be kind,’” Davis remembered.

When he visited the family, the house was clean, the pantry was well stocked and the kids were healthy, happy and well loved. He tried to be as reassuring as possible, reiterating again and again what a good job the parents were doing raising their children in a safe and loving way.

But the family was clearly terrified, he said.

“It was just heartbreaking to me, to everyone, to see what we were doing, to see what we had become,” Davis said.

After that, Davis said he couldn’t keep working for an agency that would target families this way. Last week, he put in his notice; he is going to keep working until mid-May to wrap up as many of his open cases as he can to help minimize the burden on his colleagues.

But even though Davis told his supervisor there was no evidence of abuse, the investigation into that child’s family will remain open, likely long after he’s left, while the state continues to fight in court for the right to investigate parents just like those.

Inside the agency

Employees at the Travis County DFPS office say they found out about Abbott’s directive the same way most people did — on the news. They were shocked and devastated to see their agency become politicized, several said.

When they got an invitation to an emergency staff meeting the next day, many of them hoped they’d be told the agency wouldn’t be following the governor’s directive.

Instead, they received confirmation that they would now be required to open investigations into reports of parents who provide gender-affirming care to their children. They were instructed to treat these cases very differently than others.

According to a meeting agenda reviewed by the Tribune, supervisors were told that they needed to notify their chain of command when they received one of these cases (“as we know these can be difficult,” the agenda read) and that the agency’s general counsel would be working on guidelines to determine how to rule on these cases.

Several employees say they were told to mark all the cases under Abbott’s directive as sensitive, a rare designation usually reserved for cases in which DFPS employees are personally involved.

They were also instructed not to communicate about these cases in writing, a directive that struck the employees as unusual, unethical and risky.

“We document … as relentlessly as we do because it’s a way to make sure there’s individual responsibility for actions that are taken that can be tracked back to who made the decision,” said one Travis County child protective investigations supervisor. “I could be held responsible for a decision made in my case that I didn’t make, but I have no way to defend myself.”

Investigators and supervisors said they don’t typically investigate cases if the only allegation is that a parent is giving their child medication prescribed by a doctor. Instead, those cases are ruled out without a formal investigation and designated “priority none.”

In fact, they said, the agency usually gets involved in cases with the opposite problem: parents who won’t or don’t give their child prescribed medications.

But supervisors at the emergency staff meeting say they were told cases in which parents were providing medically prescribed gender-affirming care to their children could not be marked priority none and had to be investigated.

“This is literally a direct contradiction of the policy … because we are telling parents we understand that a doctor … is telling you to do this, but we don’t like it,” said one senior-level supervisor.

When people on the call pointed out that these cases would not meet the standards for physical abuse or medical neglect as laid out in the Texas Family Code, they were told that policy would be generated to match the directives, according to several employees who were in the meeting.

One senior-level supervisor said the response seemed to be, “basically, do it now and policy will catch up later, and everything will be fine.”

For a lot of employees, the special requirements on these cases have put them in an untenable situation.

“We already have such a high level of responsibility that our ethics can’t be called into question,” said another senior-level supervisor who is still employed by the agency. “We have the ability to remove people’s children. We have to be able to pass muster at every level. [This] has dramatically affected the trust that I have in this department as a whole.”

Many DFPS employees say they feel caught in a tug of war between their ethics and their obligations. They say they don’t want to be foot soldiers following Attorney General Ken Paxton and Abbott into this latest culture war, but they need their jobs and they worry about what will happen to vulnerable children if they leave.

Many of those who have stayed have been engaging in small acts of resistance to the directive. Last week, DFPS workers from several offices signed on to an amicus brief condemning the order. Several Travis County staff members wore T-shirts one day proclaiming their support for trans kids; others have added subtle rainbows to their office decor.

Randa Mulanax decided to leave the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.

DFPS supervisor Randa Mulanax decided to quit the agency shortly before testifying at a court hearing where a judge paused Gov. Greg Abbott’s order to launch child abuse investigations against families who provide gender-affirming care to their transgender children. “I knew that saying something internally wasn’t going to do anything.” Mulanax said. Credit: Lauren Witte/The Texas Tribune

Resignations and resistance

A week after the directive came out, the American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal filed a lawsuit on behalf of a DFPS employee, identified only as Jane Doe, who was under investigation for child abuse for providing gender-affirming care to her 16-year-old daughter.

At the hearing, a lawyer for the state said DFPS was not going to investigate “every trans youth or every young person undergoing these kinds of treatments and procedures.”

The directive was intended to convey “not that gender-affirming treatments are necessarily or per se abusive, but that these treatments, like virtually any other implement, could be used by somebody to harm a child,” said assistant attorney general Ryan Kercher.

Watching the hearing, Travis County investigators were confused. In the emergency meeting after Abbott announced the directive, they say regional leadership told them the exact opposite — they had to investigate these cases, even if there was no evidence that these medications were being forced on a child or otherwise used as a form of abuse.

A judge granted a temporary restraining order, halting the investigation into that family, and scheduled a hearing to consider a statewide pause to the governor’s directive.

Soon after, DFPS supervisor Randa Mulanax put in her resignation at the Travis County office. She’d reached out to the ACLU to see how she could help block this directive from being implemented and agreed to testify at the next hearing.

On the stand, she told the judge that the cases being investigated under Abbott’s directive are treated differently than others, and that the ethical conundrum those cases had sparked left her no choice but to resign. The judge granted a temporary statewide injunction that day, blocking these investigations from continuing until a full trial in July.

Paxton has asked the Texas Supreme Court to intervene and allow the investigations to continue while the case proceeds through the courts. After several days of confusion, supervisors said they were told the cases are “on pause” — they remain open, but investigative activities are currently suspended.

The injunction also stops DFPS from investigating new reports of child abuse based solely on allegations that a parent provided gender-affirming care to a child.

When Mulanax returned to the office after testifying, she said her office door was covered in thank-you notes and her email inbox was overflowing with gratitude from families, lawyers and fellow DFPS employees.

Mulanax said she felt proud that she’d contributed to blocking the directive but was wracked with guilt over what her resignation would mean for an already overburdened department.

“I understood that things were going to get worse with me leaving,” she said. “I’m leaving cases behind that have been reassigned two or three times and bounced around from supervisor to supervisor. But do I trade in my ethics and my morality?”

The state’s child welfare agency has long struggled to recruit and retain qualified staff. It’s a grueling job, made more difficult in recent years as the agency scrambles to try to comply with the terms of a decadelong federal lawsuit.

The state is still dealing with a crisis of foster children without permanent placement who sleep in state offices, often for weeks at a time. DFPS employees take shifts supervising these kids; supervisors, who are salaried, do not get paid overtime for that work.

And that’s in addition to their existing, often overwhelming job duties investigating some of the most heartbreaking, challenging cases of abuse and neglect.

Several employees said investigators at the Travis County office are often getting assigned five to seven new cases a week — more than double what they say is recommended as best practice — on top of an already teetering pile of open cases.

“It’s a very scary time here right now,” one senior-level supervisor said. “You never know what you’re going to come into the next day, if someone else is going to leave and you’re going to have another 20 cases to reassign, or you’re going to have to cover another unit because their supervisor left.”

And employees say they know better than anyone the potential consequences of overloaded investigators.

“They’re letting so many years of experience walk out that door,” said a senior-level supervisor. “And the ones who will leave are the ones who stand their ground and do the right thing. Once all those good staff leave, who will be left?”

Morgan Davis' DFPS badge on Wednesday, Apr. 6, 2022.

Many DFPS employees say they feel caught in a tug of war between their ethics and their obligations. Credit: Lauren Witte/The Texas Tribune

Few answers available

On a Tuesday in mid-March, a few days after Mulanax testified, hundreds of child welfare investigative supervisors and managers from across the state logged in to a video conference call, eager to get some answers from the department’s leadership.

Several managers said they were surprised to see that DFPS Commissioner Jaime Masters wasn’t in attendance.

Instead, Associate Commissioner Rich Richman took the lead. He started by saying the meeting was not going to be “an ass-chewing,” according to several people who attended, and then launched into a criticism of the handling of a separate scandal the agency was facing in connection to allegations of sex trafficking at a state-licensed foster facility in Bastrop.

Abbott’s directive was not the focus of the call, as they’d been hoping, employees who were on the call said.

“We had a whole statewide meeting on something that has literally nothing to do with us instead of the thing that is directly affecting our everyday life,” one supervisor said.

Richman did not address Mulanax’s testimony or the injunction in the gender-affirming care cases. Instead, several people on the call said, he briefly reminded staff that they were to be “neutral fact-finders” in these and all investigations.

When Richman opened up the floor to questions and comments, the staff unloaded, according to chat logs reviewed by the Tribune. They demanded answers on when they were going to be getting more guidance on how to handle cases of gender-affirming care and issued dire warnings about the flood of resignations on the horizon.

“You are losing so many tenured staff and wisdom because this job is just not manageable anymore,” one supervisor wrote.

Another said DFPS leaders “are so out of touch with what your agency does.”

They also aired long-standing gripes about salaries, overtime pay and working conditions.

“As supervisors, we are out here working 60 to 80 hours a week to be supportive of our staff and to keep their heads above water and feel supported,” one supervisor wrote. “We are worn but pushing through, because we love what we do, but not getting overtime or compensation becomes exhausting and discouraging.”

Most of the questions, including those about gender-affirming care cases, went unanswered.

Richman did respond to the money question: According to several people on the call, he encouraged employees to remember they were there for the children, not the money.

“It was also very upsetting because we’ve looked at the salaries of all those higher-ups,” said Mulanax. “It’s pretty, pretty easy to say it’s not about the money when you’re sitting high and tight on over $100,000 a year and you’re not working all this overtime.”

Richman, who was hired in September, earns $150,000 a year.

Evoking children’s welfare felt particularly disingenuous, several people said, when they’d been loudly challenging whether the governor’s directive was really in children’s best interest, to no response.

The meeting was scheduled for 90 minutes, but just before the hour mark, Richman brought it to an end. He said he’d print out the questions in the chat and follow up with employees directly via email. No one who spoke to the Tribune has received a response.

Later that day, the department hosted a similar meeting for lower-level investigators. But this time, the chat function was turned off.

For LGBTQ mental health support, call the Trevor Project’s 24/7 toll-free support line at 866-488-7386. You can also reach a trained crisis counselor through the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by calling 800-273-8255 or texting 741741.

We can’t wait to welcome you in person and online to the 2022 Texas Tribune Festival, our multiday celebration of big, bold ideas about politics, public policy and the day’s news — all taking place just steps away from the Texas Capitol from Sept. 22-24. When tickets go on sale in May, Tribune members will save big. Donate to join or renew today.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2022/04/11/texas-trans-child-abuse-investigations/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

Distraught over orders to investigate trans kids’ families, Texas child welfare workers are resigning

By Eleanor Klibanoff, The Texas Tribune

"Distraught over orders to investigate trans kids’ families, Texas child welfare workers are resigning" was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

Do you work with or for Texas Child Protective Services? We’d like to talk to you. The Texas Tribune is pursuing a number of stories involving the state’s child protective services agency, and we’d like to speak with as many staffers as possible. You can contact reporter Reese Oxner at roxner@texastribune.org or Eleanor Klibanoff at eleanor.klibanoff@texastribune.org. You can also leak us a tip by contacting us over Signal at 512-745-2713.

Morgan Davis, a transgender man, joined Texas’ child welfare agency as an investigator to be the advocate he never had growing up.

Less than a year later, one of the first cases under Gov. Greg Abbott’s order to investigate parents of transgender children landed on his desk.

His supervisors in the Travis County office of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services offered to reassign the case, but maybe, he thought, he was the right person for the job.

“If somebody was going to do it, I’m glad it was me,” Davis said.

He hoped it would be reassuring to the family to see a transgender man at the helm of the investigation. But the family’s lawyer didn’t see it that way.

“She said, ‘I know your intentions are good. But by walking in that door, as a representative for the state, you are saying in a sense that you condone this, that you agree with it,’” Davis said.

“It hit me like a thunderbolt. It’s true,” he said. “By me being there, for even a split second, a child could think they’ve done something wrong.”

Davis resigned shortly after. Since the directive went into effect, each member of his four-person unit has put in their notice as well.

While the attorney general’s office has gone to great lengths to defend the governor’s directive in court, the agency responsible for carrying out the investigations has been roiled by resistance and resignations as employees struggle with ethical questions they’ve never faced before.

More than half a dozen child abuse investigators told The Texas Tribune that they either have resigned or are actively job hunting as a result of the directive.

A spokesperson for DFPS declined to comment on the resignations or answer specific questions, citing pending litigation.

The employees, most of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect their jobs, said they feel conflicted — unwilling to undertake what they see as discriminatory investigations and critical of the agency’s internal response to requests for guidance, but haunted by what a mass exodus of experienced child abuse investigators would mean for the state’s most vulnerable children.

“Things are already slipping through the cracks. … We will see investigations that get closed where intervention could have occurred,” one supervisor said. “And children will die in Texas.”

Morgan Davis gave notice of his resignation on April 4, 2022, at the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.

Morgan Davis gave notice of his resignation on April 4. “If this is the hill I go out on, I’m proud to do it,” Davis said. Credit: Lauren Witte/The Texas Tribune

A “heartbreaking” investigation

From the moment he got the case, Davis felt the conflict acutely. He joined DFPS to help children facing abuse and neglect, not children receiving medical care under the direction of a doctor — medical care that made such a difference in his own life.

Gender-affirming care is endorsed by all the major medical associations as the proper treatment for gender dysphoria, the distress someone can feel when their assigned sex doesn’t align with their gender identity. While many young people focus on social transition — dressing differently or using different pronouns — some are prescribed puberty blockers, which are reversible, or hormone therapy.

[What is gender-affirming medical care for transgender children? Here’s what you need to know.]

Davis felt the directive was an unnecessary overreach — he knew firsthand the care and caution that doctors take when prescribing treatments for gender dysphoria.

Even the person who made the child abuse report didn’t seem to agree with the directive: Davis said they were sobbing on the phone, distraught that they were reporting the family, but the person was mandated by law to report child abuse and feared the consequences of not making a report.

“[They] said to me, ‘Just promise me you’ll be kind,’” Davis remembered.

When he visited the family, the house was clean, the pantry was well stocked and the kids were healthy, happy and well loved. He tried to be as reassuring as possible, reiterating again and again what a good job the parents were doing raising their children in a safe and loving way.

But the family was clearly terrified, he said.

“It was just heartbreaking to me, to everyone, to see what we were doing, to see what we had become,” Davis said.

After that, Davis said he couldn’t keep working for an agency that would target families this way. Last week, he put in his notice; he is going to keep working until mid-May to wrap up as many of his open cases as he can to help minimize the burden on his colleagues.

But even though Davis told his supervisor there was no evidence of abuse, the investigation into that child’s family will remain open, likely long after he’s left, while the state continues to fight in court for the right to investigate parents just like those.

Inside the agency

Employees at the Travis County DFPS office say they found out about Abbott’s directive the same way most people did — on the news. They were shocked and devastated to see their agency become politicized, several said.

When they got an invitation to an emergency staff meeting the next day, many of them hoped they’d be told the agency wouldn’t be following the governor’s directive.

Instead, they received confirmation that they would now be required to open investigations into reports of parents who provide gender-affirming care to their children. They were instructed to treat these cases very differently than others.

According to a meeting agenda reviewed by the Tribune, supervisors were told that they needed to notify their chain of command when they received one of these cases (“as we know these can be difficult,” the agenda read) and that the agency’s general counsel would be working on guidelines to determine how to rule on these cases.

Several employees say they were told to mark all the cases under Abbott’s directive as sensitive, a rare designation usually reserved for cases in which DFPS employees are personally involved.

They were also instructed not to communicate about these cases in writing, a directive that struck the employees as unusual, unethical and risky.

“We document … as relentlessly as we do because it’s a way to make sure there’s individual responsibility for actions that are taken that can be tracked back to who made the decision,” said one Travis County child protective investigations supervisor. “I could be held responsible for a decision made in my case that I didn’t make, but I have no way to defend myself.”

Investigators and supervisors said they don’t typically investigate cases if the only allegation is that a parent is giving their child medication prescribed by a doctor. Instead, those cases are ruled out without a formal investigation and designated “priority none.”

In fact, they said, the agency usually gets involved in cases with the opposite problem: parents who won’t or don’t give their child prescribed medications.

But supervisors at the emergency staff meeting say they were told cases in which parents were providing medically prescribed gender-affirming care to their children could not be marked priority none and had to be investigated.

“This is literally a direct contradiction of the policy … because we are telling parents we understand that a doctor … is telling you to do this, but we don’t like it,” said one senior-level supervisor.

When people on the call pointed out that these cases would not meet the standards for physical abuse or medical neglect as laid out in the Texas Family Code, they were told that policy would be generated to match the directives, according to several employees who were in the meeting.

One senior-level supervisor said the response seemed to be, “basically, do it now and policy will catch up later, and everything will be fine.”

For a lot of employees, the special requirements on these cases have put them in an untenable situation.

“We already have such a high level of responsibility that our ethics can’t be called into question,” said another senior-level supervisor who is still employed by the agency. “We have the ability to remove people’s children. We have to be able to pass muster at every level. [This] has dramatically affected the trust that I have in this department as a whole.”

Many DFPS employees say they feel caught in a tug of war between their ethics and their obligations. They say they don’t want to be foot soldiers following Attorney General Ken Paxton and Abbott into this latest culture war, but they need their jobs and they worry about what will happen to vulnerable children if they leave.

Many of those who have stayed have been engaging in small acts of resistance to the directive. Last week, DFPS workers from several offices signed on to an amicus brief condemning the order. Several Travis County staff members wore T-shirts one day proclaiming their support for trans kids; others have added subtle rainbows to their office decor.

Randa Mulanax decided to leave the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.

DFPS supervisor Randa Mulanax decided to quit the agency shortly before testifying at a court hearing where a judge paused Gov. Greg Abbott’s order to launch child abuse investigations against families who provide gender-affirming care to their transgender children. “I knew that saying something internally wasn’t going to do anything.” Mulanax said. Credit: Lauren Witte/The Texas Tribune

Resignations and resistance

A week after the directive came out, the American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal filed a lawsuit on behalf of a DFPS employee, identified only as Jane Doe, who was under investigation for child abuse for providing gender-affirming care to her 16-year-old daughter.

At the hearing, a lawyer for the state said DFPS was not going to investigate “every trans youth or every young person undergoing these kinds of treatments and procedures.”

The directive was intended to convey “not that gender-affirming treatments are necessarily or per se abusive, but that these treatments, like virtually any other implement, could be used by somebody to harm a child,” said assistant attorney general Ryan Kercher.

Watching the hearing, Travis County investigators were confused. In the emergency meeting after Abbott announced the directive, they say regional leadership told them the exact opposite — they had to investigate these cases, even if there was no evidence that these medications were being forced on a child or otherwise used as a form of abuse.

A judge granted a temporary restraining order, halting the investigation into that family, and scheduled a hearing to consider a statewide pause to the governor’s directive.

Soon after, DFPS supervisor Randa Mulanax put in her resignation at the Travis County office. She’d reached out to the ACLU to see how she could help block this directive from being implemented and agreed to testify at the next hearing.

On the stand, she told the judge that the cases being investigated under Abbott’s directive are treated differently than others, and that the ethical conundrum those cases had sparked left her no choice but to resign. The judge granted a temporary statewide injunction that day, blocking these investigations from continuing until a full trial in July.

Paxton has asked the Texas Supreme Court to intervene and allow the investigations to continue while the case proceeds through the courts. After several days of confusion, supervisors said they were told the cases are “on pause” — they remain open, but investigative activities are currently suspended.

The injunction also stops DFPS from investigating new reports of child abuse based solely on allegations that a parent provided gender-affirming care to a child.

When Mulanax returned to the office after testifying, she said her office door was covered in thank-you notes and her email inbox was overflowing with gratitude from families, lawyers and fellow DFPS employees.

Mulanax said she felt proud that she’d contributed to blocking the directive but was wracked with guilt over what her resignation would mean for an already overburdened department.

“I understood that things were going to get worse with me leaving,” she said. “I’m leaving cases behind that have been reassigned two or three times and bounced around from supervisor to supervisor. But do I trade in my ethics and my morality?”

The state’s child welfare agency has long struggled to recruit and retain qualified staff. It’s a grueling job, made more difficult in recent years as the agency scrambles to try to comply with the terms of a decadelong federal lawsuit.

The state is still dealing with a crisis of foster children without permanent placement who sleep in state offices, often for weeks at a time. DFPS employees take shifts supervising these kids; supervisors, who are salaried, do not get paid overtime for that work.

And that’s in addition to their existing, often overwhelming job duties investigating some of the most heartbreaking, challenging cases of abuse and neglect.

Several employees said investigators at the Travis County office are often getting assigned five to seven new cases a week — more than double what they say is recommended as best practice — on top of an already teetering pile of open cases.

“It’s a very scary time here right now,” one senior-level supervisor said. “You never know what you’re going to come into the next day, if someone else is going to leave and you’re going to have another 20 cases to reassign, or you’re going to have to cover another unit because their supervisor left.”

And employees say they know better than anyone the potential consequences of overloaded investigators.

“They’re letting so many years of experience walk out that door,” said a senior-level supervisor. “And the ones who will leave are the ones who stand their ground and do the right thing. Once all those good staff leave, who will be left?”

Morgan Davis' DFPS badge on Wednesday, Apr. 6, 2022.

Many DFPS employees say they feel caught in a tug of war between their ethics and their obligations. Credit: Lauren Witte/The Texas Tribune

Few answers available

On a Tuesday in mid-March, a few days after Mulanax testified, hundreds of child welfare investigative supervisors and managers from across the state logged in to a video conference call, eager to get some answers from the department’s leadership.

Several managers said they were surprised to see that DFPS Commissioner Jaime Masters wasn’t in attendance.

Instead, Associate Commissioner Rich Richman took the lead. He started by saying the meeting was not going to be “an ass-chewing,” according to several people who attended, and then launched into a criticism of the handling of a separate scandal the agency was facing in connection to allegations of sex trafficking at a state-licensed foster facility in Bastrop.

Abbott’s directive was not the focus of the call, as they’d been hoping, employees who were on the call said.

“We had a whole statewide meeting on something that has literally nothing to do with us instead of the thing that is directly affecting our everyday life,” one supervisor said.

Richman did not address Mulanax’s testimony or the injunction in the gender-affirming care cases. Instead, several people on the call said, he briefly reminded staff that they were to be “neutral fact-finders” in these and all investigations.

When Richman opened up the floor to questions and comments, the staff unloaded, according to chat logs reviewed by the Tribune. They demanded answers on when they were going to be getting more guidance on how to handle cases of gender-affirming care and issued dire warnings about the flood of resignations on the horizon.

“You are losing so many tenured staff and wisdom because this job is just not manageable anymore,” one supervisor wrote.

Another said DFPS leaders “are so out of touch with what your agency does.”

They also aired long-standing gripes about salaries, overtime pay and working conditions.

“As supervisors, we are out here working 60 to 80 hours a week to be supportive of our staff and to keep their heads above water and feel supported,” one supervisor wrote. “We are worn but pushing through, because we love what we do, but not getting overtime or compensation becomes exhausting and discouraging.”

Most of the questions, including those about gender-affirming care cases, went unanswered.

Richman did respond to the money question: According to several people on the call, he encouraged employees to remember they were there for the children, not the money.

“It was also very upsetting because we’ve looked at the salaries of all those higher-ups,” said Mulanax. “It’s pretty, pretty easy to say it’s not about the money when you’re sitting high and tight on over $100,000 a year and you’re not working all this overtime.”

Richman, who was hired in September, earns $150,000 a year.

Evoking children’s welfare felt particularly disingenuous, several people said, when they’d been loudly challenging whether the governor’s directive was really in children’s best interest, to no response.

The meeting was scheduled for 90 minutes, but just before the hour mark, Richman brought it to an end. He said he’d print out the questions in the chat and follow up with employees directly via email. No one who spoke to the Tribune has received a response.

Later that day, the department hosted a similar meeting for lower-level investigators. But this time, the chat function was turned off.

For LGBTQ mental health support, call the Trevor Project’s 24/7 toll-free support line at 866-488-7386. You can also reach a trained crisis counselor through the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by calling 800-273-8255 or texting 741741.

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This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2022/04/11/texas-trans-child-abuse-investigations/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

After accepting her trans son’s hard-fought identity, a Texas mother is being investigated for child abuse

For LGBTQ mental health support, call the Trevor Project’s 24/7 toll-free support line at 866-488-7386. You can also reach a trained crisis counselor through the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by calling 800-273-8255 or texting 741741.
It took Max three years and one letter, written with shaky hands, to tell his mother the truth.

He gave her the letter at the worst possible moment, with dinner on the stove and a house full of other kids needing her attention. But as soon as Amy started to read his words, she stopped, sat down and let it all sink in.

The child that she had given birth to and raised for 13 years as a daughter was telling her that he was, in fact, her son.

“I had one of those out-of-body experiences, where it felt like I was looking at myself reading the letter,” Amy remembered recently. “I could not believe what I was reading. I just wanted to cry.”

But instead, she took a deep breath and let her maternal instinct take over.

“I knew in that moment it was more important for me to hug him,” she said. “He needed to feel loved and accepted more than I needed to cry.”

The family spoke to The Texas Tribune on the condition of anonymity and are identified in this story with pseudonyms because they fear harassment. They are one of at least nine families facing child abuse investigations for providing gender-affirming care to their transgender children in the wake of a recent directive from Gov. Greg Abbott.

In that moment three years ago, Max explained to his mom that he’d been slowly coming out to friends and one of his brothers and he’d started going by his new, male-sounding name. He told her about his years of self-discovery and research into pronouns and puberty blockers and ways he could dress to hide his female form.

Amy felt like she’d just been swept up in a tornado and landed somewhere completely unfamiliar.

“I felt like I was grieving for my daughter … It took me about a week to realize [he] is healthy and he is safe, and he is exactly the same person he was a week ago,” she said. “And it’s me that needs to get over it.”

It’s been three years and while Amy is fully supportive of Max’s journey, she feels like she’s still playing catch-up. He’s the one educating her about the process of gender transition, including medical care like puberty blockers and hormone therapy.

So she was shocked when, three weeks ago, a child welfare worker showed up at their door, asking questions about whether Amy might be the one forcing Max to transition.

The investigations are in limbo while a legal challenge to the governor’s directive makes its way through the court system, leaving these families in a state of suspended terror.

Max, now 16, can’t understand why the government is targeting his family.

“The most upsetting thing about this for me is … the fact that they would accuse my mother of being a child abuser simply because of my identity,” Max said. “She’s made all of this possible for me and accepted me. That’s all I could ask for, and then the state comes out like, ‘Oh, actually, your mother is abusing you.’”

A young man’s transition

Growing up, Max didn’t think much about gender. He was a tomboy, but mostly because he had three older brothers and inherited a lot of hand-me-downs.

But as he got closer to puberty, he started to wonder if everyone felt the same panic and revulsion that he did when he looked at his changing body. Researching online, he found the term “gender dysphoria,” the discomfort and distress someone can feel when their gender identity doesn’t match the sex they were assigned at birth.

Max experienced dysphoria when he looked at his changing body or heard his girlish voice, but what really stuck out to him was the opposite — the euphoria and comfort he felt when, for example, online friends referred to him with male pronouns.

“I was like, this is the good stuff,” he remembers. “And then I was like, I don’t think I should be feeling this way.”

Even as a child, Max was cautious, thoughtful and private. He spent several months meticulously testing out different combinations of pronouns, running personal A/B tests to measure the amount of discomfort or joy that he felt when he thought of himself as she or they or he.

He was increasingly uncomfortable identifying as a girl. The nonbinary identity didn’t quite sit right with him. But he resisted the other option for a long time.

“It was very upsetting to realize I was trans, if I’m being honest,” he said. “I want people to be proud of who [they] are, that’s amazing, but … why would you want to be trans?”

He thought about the the judgment he’d face, the money it would cost to transition and, even back then, the laws that his home state of Texas was passing to take rights from transgender people. He read stories about people getting kicked out of their homes, losing their friends and facing stigma in their communities.

He tried every angle he could think of to talk himself out of being trans, but in the end, he couldn’t ignore the absolute joy he felt when he imagined living as a boy. When he finally worked up the courage to tell a friend that he might be trans, the friend responded positively — and asked him what name he wanted to go by.

“So, that was another one or two months,” he remembers. He spent days writing in his journal, “Hi, my name is …” again and again, trying out different monikers, until he landed on the one that felt right.

As he became increasingly certain in his identity, he started telling more people. First, it was his friends who were on similar journeys of gender discovery. Then others at school and then some of his friends’ parents, then his older brother.

Through it all, he kept putting off telling his mom. He knew, in his heart, that she’d be supportive. She’s liberal and socially progressive and, most of all, has always supported him, no matter what.

“But I felt like I could be disappointing her somehow,” he said. “Like, hey, I’m not who you thought I was at all.”

Toward the end of eighth grade, he poured all of this into a letter and watched, his heart in his throat, as his mother read it. And he felt the overwhelming relief when she wrapped him in her arms, embracing her son just as she had her daughter.

“It took a few days for the family to fully adjust,” he said. “I would say it took them like a week to get used to it.”

Sitting at the kitchen table in their cozy Austin-area home as he said this, Amy looked at her son, shocked.

“I’d say it took us the better part of a year, love.”

A mother’s journey

When Amy’s older son came out as gay, she bought herself a pride flag and would have marched in every parade if her children had let her.

But to learn that the child she thought was her daughter was now her son threw her for a loop. It was brand-new territory for her. After Amy hugged Max, reminded him that she loved him and assured herself that he was OK, she finally allowed herself to start crying.

“I could not stop the tears,” Amy said. “I said to him, ‘Look, I’m really sorry about this. I don’t mean to make you feel bad. But I cannot stop crying.’”

The feelings wouldn’t stop bubbling up — the loss she felt for the daughter she’d raised, the sadness that her son had been carrying this alone for so long, the anger that she’d been the last to know, the confusion, the fear.

“How could I live in this house with this person his whole life,” she said, “and not have a clue?”

She started seeing a grief counselor for herself and talked with Max’s doctor about how to be most affirming for him. Because even though he’d come out and was living as a boy, he was still female-presenting in many ways and struggling significantly with gender dysphoria.

Gender dysphoria is recognized by the American Psychiatric Association as a diagnosable mental health condition that can lead to depression, anxiety and staggeringly high rates of suicide among transgender people.

More than half of transgender and nonbinary youth seriously considered suicide in the past year, according to a national survey by the Trevor Project, an advocacy group focusing on mental health in LGBTQ communities.

Research shows that the suicide rate plummets when transgender teens have access to gender-affirming health care.

Gender-affirming care often starts with social transition, like when Max started using his male name and pronouns and dressed more masculinely. This alone can have a tremendous impact — the Trevor Project found that transgender and nonbinary youth who lived with people who respected their pronouns attempted suicide at half the rate of those who did not.

But as Max moved further into puberty, the dissonance between his body and his identity only grew. In public, he’d hide behind his mother, equally worried that someone would misgender him as a girl or identify him as a trans boy.

“I would worry about the silliest things,” he remembers. “Like am I walking feminine? Is my breathing pattern a male breathing pattern?”

His voice didn’t match his gender identity, so he’d avoid speaking in class and withdrew from his family and friends, hiding out in his bedroom.

“Even when I did go to my room, I would still feel uncomfortable,” he said. “It’s a horrible feeling, just constantly being in discomfort. You can’t even find solace in privacy, no matter what you do.”

Just before the beginning of his freshman year of high school, with his mother’s buy-in, Max talked to his doctor about beginning hormone therapy, which would more closely align his physical presentation with his gender identity.

All of the major medical associations have endorsed providing gender-affirming care for transgender teens, including hormone therapy when appropriate.

And the potential costs of not being able to access this care are stark — a 2021 study from the University of Washington found that young people on puberty blockers or gender-affirming hormones were 60% less likely to be depressed and 73% less likely to have thoughts of self-harm or suicide.

But with a dearth of specialized health care providers and increasing state-level crackdowns, less than half of transgender teens who want hormone therapy were actually able to access it.

Even Max, who found a specialist and had support from his mother, found the process to be long and daunting. His doctor required him to be assessed by a counselor, and Amy had to go to court to get full legal custody because her ex-husband, Max’s father, was opposed to providing gender-affirming care.

Finally, nine months after he first asked his doctor about hormone therapy, Max started taking tiny doses of testosterone. His dosage has slowly increased over the past year with no negative side effects.

Today, he looks like any other 16-year-old boy, with floppy boy band hair that he constantly swipes out of his eyes and the first few wisps of a beard. And he has found his voice — a few octaves lower and a lot more confident.

“I’ve been able to talk to people more easily, like not having to worry about what they think of me [or] how I’m presenting,” he said. “Like, is it too obvious? Am I gonna endanger myself?”

For Amy, her son’s transformation has been awe-inspiring to watch. Not from female-presenting to male-presenting, but from an uncomfortable, fearful child to a confident, self-assured young man.

“He just started blooming,” she said. “It was just such a huge, huge difference. He came back to us.”

Max participates in class, hangs out with his family and has a robust group of friends. When he thinks about who he was before, Max says hormone therapy saved his life.

“I can’t remember a time I’ve been happier than this,” he said. “People don’t look at me as trans. They just see the person.”

A visit from CPS

After spending his whole freshman year in virtual classes due to COVID, Max returned to school for sophomore year as just one of the guys. The school and his close friends are aware that he is trans, but many of the other students have no idea.

He said some of the other students, unaware of his identity, are openly transphobic. Which is just one reason that it was so scary to be called to the office a few weeks ago and find a caseworker from the state’s child welfare agency waiting to question him about his gender identity.

It was Feb. 24, two days after Abbott directed the Department of Family and Protective Services to investigate parents of transgender children for child abuse.

Max had texted his mom earlier that day after he learned about the directive, never imagining that his family would be among the first to be investigated under these new orders.

The caseworker asked him questions, he said, about his medical and family history. Was there a history of drug abuse? Had his mother ever tried to physically harm him? Had anyone tried to influence him to take hormones?

“I just tried to answer as honestly as I could, but I was really nervous about saying something to where it would incriminate someone in my family,” he said. “I don’t want it to seem like they’ve actually done anything to me because they haven’t, but I know that people can twist your words.”

Amy was driving the carpool that afternoon, so Max waited until all the other kids had been dropped off to tell her what had happened. But before he could even get the words out, his older brother called — a caseworker was at the door, looking for Amy.

“I didn’t handle it as well as [Max] did,” she admits.

She didn’t want to let the caseworker inside, but her husband, Max’s stepdad, reminded her that they had nothing to hide. So they agreed to allow the caseworker to interview the whole family.

Amy said the caseworker told her they’ve been instructed to prioritize investigations into parents who provide gender-affirming care above all other child abuse and neglect cases. A spokesperson for DFPS declined to verify the caseworker’s comment, citing the ongoing investigation.

Another caseworker testified in court Friday that the state’s child welfare agency is treating these cases differently than others — they’ve been told not to put anything in writing and they are required to investigate, even if there’s no evidence of abuse.

“That just tells me that Abbott and his team do not give a damn about kids,” Amy said. “Because if you can put these cases above all other cases of children who are going through real, authentic, terrible neglect and abuse, you don’t care about kids at all … trans or not. This is purely political.”

A judge granted an injunction on Friday, blocking Abbott’s directive from being enforced statewide. Attorney General Ken Paxton has appealed, which stays the injunction, but the family’s lawyer has informed CPS they won’t be participating further in the investigation.

In the meantime, the family is in a state of suspended animation, both desperate for and terrified of what the next steps in this process might bring.

Amy isn’t worried about what an investigation might find — she knows she hasn’t done anything wrong. She worries most about the impact all of this is having on her son, who was finally finding his way out of his shell.

After CPS visited him at school, Max has asked if he can return to virtual classes to wrap up the school year. He’s struggling with his mental health and scared of being outed or facing bullying or discrimination from his classmates.

She just tries to remind him, over and over again, that he has done nothing wrong. It’s never wrong, she tells him, to be who you are — no matter who tells you otherwise.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2022/03/18/transgender-child-abuse-texas-abbott/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

Judge temporarily blocks Texas investigations into families of trans kids

"Judge temporarily blocks Texas investigations into families of trans kids" was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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For LGBTQ mental health support, call the Trevor Project’s 24/7 toll-free support line at 866-488-7386. You can also reach a trained crisis counselor through the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by calling 800-273-8255 or texting 741741.

State District Judge Amy Clark Meachum ruled Friday that the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services cannot continue to investigate parents who provide gender-affirming care to their transgender children for child abuse. The statewide injunction will remain in effect until the case is heard in July.

Meachum said there is a "substantial likelihood that" lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal will prevail in getting this directive permanently overturned, calling Abbott's actions "beyond the scope of his duty and unconstitutional."

This ruling came after a day of arguments about the directive, issued last month.

A supervisor for the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services testified Friday that the child abuse investigations into families of transgender children ordered by Gov. Greg Abbott are being held to a different standard than other cases.

Investigators can’t discuss cases with colleagues via text or email, and they are required to investigate the cases, even if there’s no evidence of abuse, according to Randa Mulanax, an investigative supervisor with DFPS.

Mulanax was called to testify at a court hearing before state District Judge Amy Clark Meachum to determine whether to block Abbott’s Feb. 22 directive to investigate parents who provide gender-affirming care to their children.

Mulanax has decided to resign as a result of this directive after six years with the agency.

“I’ve always felt that, at the end of the day, the department had children’s best interest at heart,” she said. “I no longer feel that way.”

Abbott’s move to have families of transgender children investigated for abuse — made one week before the state's March 1 primary — followed a nonbinding legal opinion from Attorney General Ken Paxton.

The American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal filed a lawsuit against the state on behalf of the parents of a transgender child who were investigated by child welfare workers after the mother, a state employee, asked questions about the new directive.

Meachum granted a temporary restraining order last week, which halted this one case, but there are currently nine families under investigation for gender-affirming care, according to DFPS.

Lawyers for the ACLU and Lambda argued in court Friday that Meachum should grant a statewide injunction on all of these investigations until the legitimacy of this directive can be argued in trial.

“The defendant’s directives and actions are traumatizing,” said ACLU of Texas attorney Brian Klosterboer. He added that the actions are “killing the ability of transgender youth to continue to get necessary care, and forcing physicians and mandatory reporters … to decide between civil and criminal penalties … and doing what’s right for the health of their patients.”

A lawyer for the state argued that simply opening a child abuse investigation into a family is not necessarily evidence of harm to that family, and that it would be overreach for “the judicial branch to infringe on the executive branch's ability to perform such a critical task as ensuring the welfare of the state's children.”

Mulanax said employees have been told not to communicate with colleagues about these cases via email or text message, which she described as unusual and “unethical.”

She said investigators have been told they cannot mark these cases as “priority none,” a designation staff use when they believe a report does not merit investigation, and must alert department leadership and the general counsel when they’re working on one of these cases.

A lawyer for the state asked Mulanax if any transgender children had been removed from their homes or been taken off of medication prescribed by a doctor. Mulanax said the cases had not been resolved and to her knowledge, no one had been removed or taken off of medication.

A psychologist who treats children with gender dysphoria testified to the court about the “outright panic” that her patients and health care providers have been feeling since this directive went into effect.

Megan Mooney is a plaintiff in the lawsuit. She testified about the conflict this directive has created for herself and other professionals who the state considers mandatory reporters of child abuse.

A requirement to report her clients for receiving “medically necessary and professionally-upheld standards of care” would be devastating to her clients and her business, Mooney said.

She said she doesn't believe she is in violation of any laws, since Paxton’s opinion was non-binding, but the Governor's directive has sowed confusion and anxiety, as well as created an ethical conflict.

Assistant Attorney General Courtney Corbello asked whether Mooney’s personal ethical disagreement with a policy means that she doesn’t have to follow it.

“My ethical code from the American Psychological Association suggests that when our ethics and our laws are in conflict, we take every effort to remedy that,” Mooney said. “That is in part why I am here today.”

Corbello walked Mooney through the World Professional Association for Transgender Health standards for providing care for minors with gender dysphoria — assessing the child; providing family counseling and psychotherapy to children; treating any co-existing mental health concerns; and providing fully-reversible physical interventions, among other steps.

Mooney agreed with these steps, though she said sometimes they happen simultaneously.

This story will be updated.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2022/03/11/transgender-texas-court-hearing/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.