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Texas Supreme Court Hears Arguments For and Against Transgender Care Ban

— January 30, 2024

Families of transgender children claim that recently-enacted S.B. 14 deprives them of their parental right to make medical decisions for and on behalf of their children.

The Texas Supreme Court on Tuesday heard a legal challenge to a recently-enacted state law prohibiting doctors from prescribing gender-affirming care to transgender children, a policy that a district judge had already ruled unconstitutional.

According to The Texas Tribune, the state’s controversial law bars most transgender minors from obtaining puberty blocker sand hormone therapy. The move has been challenged by the families of some transgender youth, who say that the legislation violates their parental rights to access medical care for and on behalf of their children.

A Travis County district court has since temporarily blocked the law from taking effect, agreeing with the families’ position and finding that the rule violates parents’ rights.

However, an appeal to the Texas Supreme Court successfully lifted the injunction and let the rule be enforced from September onward.

On Tuesday, Kennon Wooten—a Scott, Douglass & McConnico partner representing the families—said that Texas Senate Bill 14 unlawfully deprives parents of their right to make medical decisions for their children.

Wooten also noted that the law was clearly engineered to restrict access to a rare form of care relied upon by a small and distinct group of people.

“In this case, what we have is the state defining the rights so specifically […] we risk death by a thousand cuts of the fundamental right under the Constitution that parents have to make decisions about the care for their children,” Wooten told the Supreme Court.

A gavel. Image via Wikimedia Commons via Flickr/user: Brian Turner. (CCA-BY-2.0).

In response, Texas Assistant Solicitor General Natalie Thompson argued that the Lone Star State has a vested and legal interest in protecting the well-being of children, saying that S.B. 14 ensures that minors cannot take medications that induce potentially irreversible changes.

“Minors, generally, cannot get tattoos,” Thompson said, emphasizing that Texas law already selectively restricts the rights of minors. “Minors, of course […] cannot have alcohol or nicotine, and even in medicine there are [other] examples.”

The Tribune reports that the justices spent about an hour interrogating each side, asking why the state has decided to restrict a form of health care that is supported by every major medical organization in the country.

The court also raised questions about the validity of children’s gender identity.

“What if we had a situation where a child says, ‘I feel like an amputee,’” Justice Jimmy Blacklock said, asking whether a parent should be able to give a doctor permission to remove one of their limbs.

Wooten, in turn, said that—no matter what hypothetical situation might be presented—any law passed by the state legislature must still pass tests of constitutionality. Texas might have the right to regulate medications, Wooten argued, but S.B. 14 infringes upon parents’ constitutional rights.

After hearing different arguments—including the state’s assertion that medical support for gender-affirming care is ideologically motivated—Blacklock suggested that the issue might be best left to legislatures.

“It seems to be what the court is really asked to do is resolve what is ultimately a moral and philosophical questions as opposed to a scientific question about the nature of men and women,” Blacklock said.


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