ACLU Threatens Paxton With Lawsuit After Dell Children’s Exodus

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (Photo by John Anderson)

Dell Children’s Medical Hospital is keeping tight-lipped about what caused the loss of its entire Adolescent Medicine clinic on May 12.

The hospital has refused to answer a range of questions posed by the Chronicle and apparently hasn’t been any more forthcoming with other media outlets.

Scott Hadland, chief of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine at Boston General Hospital, tweeted that his colleagues in Austin had been “pushed out.” “Understand that thousands of teens and families lost trusted clinicians caring for a range of conditions,” Hadland wrote, “and that there will be few, if any, other places where they can receive that same high quality care.”

Dell Children’s Adolescent Medicine clinic (which is still operating with non-specialists filling in, per a Dell press release) provides care for eating disorders, menstrual disorders, anxiety and depression, and other conditions. The clinic has also cared for trans youth – the issue that brought them to the attention of Attorney General Ken Paxton.

On May 5, Paxton announced an investigation into “potentially illegal” practices in the hospital’s provision of gender-affirming care for trans youth. In the past, that care has been limited to puberty blockers. Hormone therapy and surgery are available to adults but weren’t, by hospital policy, available to minors.

Paxton did not specify which law he believes Dell Children’s may have broken but gave the hospital 30 days to hand over all documents related to its policies and procedures for the delivery of puberty blockers to minors. He also ordered them to provide unredacted documents naming the patients’ doctors – documents that might be used to identify the patients themselves and their families.

Paxton’s order for the documents is just the latest instance in which he’s tried to identify trans Texans. In December, his office asked the Texas Dept. of Public Safety to compile a list of all Texans who changed their gender on their driver’s licenses in the past two years, prompting local Rep. Lulu Flores to ask, “What, are we going back to the Stasi in Ger­many? We’re going to have people turning in their friends?” In February, Paxton classified the provision of puberty blockers and hormone therapy as child abuse. After the opinion was issued, Gov. Greg Abbott ordered the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services to open investigations into at least five families of trans kids. Those investigations have been blocked for the time being by court challenges from the ACLU and Lambda Legal.

Dell Children’s may also have a case against Paxton. “The Attorney General’s Office generally has broad authority to investigate possible violations of the law,” said Fred Lewis, an attorney who has represented Dell Seton in the past. “However, considering the sensitive nature of the documents – involving health care, involving sexual orientation – the hospital may go to court to quash part or all of the information.”

Soon, however, the gender-affirming care at the center of the dispute will be illegal throughout Texas. Senate Bill 14, which would ban all forms of gender-affirming care for minors, is expected to clear the legislature today and be sent to the governor’s desk for his signature. The ACLU of Texas announced on May 18 that it will partner with Lambda Legal and the Transgender Law Center to try to stop the law in court.

“This is a sweeping attack on the only evidence-based care for adolescents with gender dysphoria,” said Karen Loewy, senior counsel with Lambda Legal, adding that courts in Alabama, Arkansas, and Missouri have blocked similar bans. “We don’t have the ultimate outcome to point to in most of these places because these bans are a relatively new politically motivated attack, in pretty unprecedented ways. But we have reason to believe that the ultimate outcome of these cases will be that targeting the health care that is medically necessary for transgender adolescents is unconstitutional.”

Decades of research demonstrates that without medical care, kids and teens suffering gender dysphoria may experience mental health effects ranging from severe anxiety to suicidality. “A ban like SB 14 threatens the lives and well-being of transgender adolescents across the state of Texas,” Loewy said. “And there’s no question this is just a politically motivated vendetta.”

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