87th LegislatureAbbott Asks Family Protective Services to Determine Whether Gender Modification Surgeries Constitute Child Abuse

The letter follows Abbott's previous announcement that he would "address the problem" after letting it pass unacknowledged in session.
August 6, 2021
In a letter, Governor Greg Abbott asked the Texas Department of Family Protective Services (DFPS) to “issue a determination” on whether procedures meant to change a child’s sex constitute child abuse.

“Subjecting a child to genital mutilation through reassignment surgery creates a ‘genuine threat of substantial harm from physical injury to the child,’” Abbott wrote, quoting the definition of child abuse in state law.

“This broad definition of ‘abuse’ should cover a surgical procedure that will sterilize the child, such as orchiectomy or hysterectomy, or remove otherwise healthy body parts, such as penectomy or mastectomy… DFPS’s determination should consider making explicit what is already implicit in the statute: that genital mutilation of a child through reassignment surgery is child abuse. ”

He goes on to note that female genital mutilation of a child is already illegal in Texas.

Abbott’s letter follows his promise to “address the problem” of child gender modification after legislative efforts to ban it failed during the regular session.

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Altogether, his attention to these procedures marks a notable shift for Abbott, who hadn’t touched the issue before last month even though legislative efforts during the regular session garnered wide Republican support.

By asking DFPS to clarify whether these surgeries can be classified as child abuse, Abbott’s letter reflects the enforcement strategies of several bills that died in the Texas House. Filed by state Rep. Steve Toth (R-The Woodlands), the earliest filed bill to ban surgeries or drugs meant to change a child’s sex would have classified them as child abuse and thereby empowered state officials to intervene in families of children that had undergone them. Another bill by Sen. Charles Perry (R-Lubbock) worked essentially the same way.

Other bills with the same goal would have made these procedures prohibited practices for doctors, empowering the Texas Medical Board to fine or delicense physicians that carry out these procedures.

One such bill by Rep. Matt Krause (R-Fort Worth) made it onto the Texas House’s floor agenda — the farthest milestone any of these bills reached — but was placed too low on the legislative list to receive a vote before time expired.

The rest of these proposals died in the Texas House Public Health Committee, chaired by Rep. Stephanie Klick (R-Fort Worth).

Most had ample support. Krause’s bill had 46 coauthors and 4 authors alongside Krause. Toth’s bill also had over 40 coauthors.

Abbott’s letter also follows a recent development in the custody case of James Younger, a young child caught in a publicized legal tug-of-war between his mother, who believes he identifies as a transgender girl, and his father, who disagrees. James’ father Jeff recently lost much of his custody rights when a court awarded his mother Anne Georgulas exclusive control over James’ counseling, education, and medical care. Gender reassignment procedures are the one exception to Georgulas’ medical custody and still require the father’s consent.

The Younger case directly inspired at least one of the proposed bans on child gender reassignment in the Texas legislature.

Abbott’s letter does not address puberty blockers or hormone-altering drugs.

Former state Sen. Don Huffines (R-Dallas), one of Abbott’s primary challengers, excoriated Abbott’s timing in a press release issued shortly after the letter was announced.

“The letter Greg Abbott sent to DFPS today is one that he could have sent six years ago. He didn’t. He also could have tasked the Texas Legislature with passing it. He hasn’t. He also leaves open the ability for abusers to continue chemical castration and brainwashing — something his own political appointees are participating in. He won’t stop them.”

“[H]is own political appointees” refers to Susan Fletcher, a court-appointed counselor for James Younger whom Abbott previously appointed to several state boards. James’ father Jeff has refused to cooperate with counseling under Fletcher since her office schedule aligns with Georgulas’ possession time, meaning James only presents himself as a girl during the counseling sessions.


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Isaiah Mitchell

Isaiah Mitchell is a reporter for The Texan, a Texas native, and a huge Allman Brothers fan. He graduated cum laude from Trinity University in 2020 with a degree in English. Isaiah loves playing music and football with his family.