Texas AG Ken Paxton probing Austin children’s hospital following video of social worker discussing transition-related care

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton announced an investigation Friday after seeing a video clip from Project Veritas, a far-right activist group that engages in deceptive practices to do hidden camera-style investigations. (Eric Lee For The Texas Tribune, Eric Lee For The Texas Tribune)

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Attorney General Ken Paxton has once again waded into the conservative fight to restrict access to gender-affirming care for trans youth, announcing Friday that he was opening an investigation into “potentially illegal” practices at Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas.

The investigation comes in the wake of a video report that alleges to show a social worker at Dell Children’s saying the Austin-based hospital provides certain gender-affirming treatment for patients “as young as eight, nine.”

Gender-affirming care is an umbrella term for the treatment of gender dysphoria, or the discomfort that comes when someone’s gender identity does not align with the sex they were assigned at birth. Gender-affirming care ranges from “socially transitioning” — using different pronouns or dressing differently — to puberty blockers, hormone therapy and surgical interventions.

Project Veritas, a far-right activist group that engages in deceptive practices to do hidden camera-style investigations, filmed health care professionals at Dell Children’s and other facilities around the country as they discussed gender-affirming care.

The clip of the social worker at Dell Children’s takes up less than a minute of the 11-minute edited video package. In the video, the woman is seen saying that patients could potentially be prescribed puberty blockers after just one appointment with a doctor.

“It’s not something that we want to gatekeep and require you to, you know, come to us 10 times before it’s prescribed,” the woman in the video said.

In a statement, Dell Children’s said they are reviewing the situation and will take appropriate action “to the extent that care provided at our clinic may have been inconsistent with our organization’s position on this important issue. The statement also noted that Dell Children’s does not prescribe hormone therapy or use surgery to treat gender dysphoria, but does “provide a safe and welcoming place for children to receive other forms of primary care and treatment.”

On Friday, Paxton filed a “request to examine” letter with Dell Children’s parent organization, Ascension Seton, asking them to turn over documents relating to the use of puberty blockers and counseling for trans youth.

It’s not clear what law Paxton believes Dell Children’s has broken; Texas does not currently have age limits on gender-affirming care, nor does it require doctors to see patients a specific number of times before prescribing puberty blockers.

But that could soon change. Paxton announced this investigation on the day of a crucial House vote on Senate Bill 14, which would prohibit transgender youth from getting puberty blockers and hormone therapy. In the two years since the Legislature last met, gender-affirming care for trans youth has emerged as a central issue for Republicans, led in many ways by Paxton.

Last session, the Legislature did not approve a measure that would have classified gender-affirming care as child abuse. But during the interim, Paxton issued a nonbinding legal opinion, claiming that existing state law allowed for parents who provide their trans children with gender-affirming care to potentially be classified as child abusers.

Citing this opinion, Gov. Greg Abbott directed the state’s child welfare agency to pursue investigations into families with trans children. The subsequent investigations sent shockwaves through Texas’ LGBTQ communities as parents of trans children lawyered up or left the state out of fear of persecution.

The Texas Supreme Court said in a ruling that the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services erred in following Abbott or Paxton’s guidance on this, and a court order has broadly blocked the agency from opening new investigations.

But this has not stopped Paxton from continuing to push the issue. He has opened deceptive trade investigations into two pharmaceutical companies that produce puberty blockers and joined multistate coalitions opposing other state laws allowing for gender-affirming care.

In a statement Friday, he urged the House to pass SB 14, “to ban acts of child abuse such as so-called ‘gender transitioning’ surgical procedures and prescribing puberty-blocking drugs for minors.”

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