AUSTIN — “I keep asking myself: Why do we have to work this hard to get our elected officials to protect children in this state?”

Jeff Younger, a Dallas-area father who’s been trying for years to defend his son in a nationally known child abuse case, recently summarized the situation well: State lawmakers—despite years of outcry—have done nothing to ban barbaric mutilation practices on Texas minors.

And as of this week, Gov. Greg Abbott still won’t call for legislators to act.

The Issue

At a speaking event a few days ago, Abbott was asked why he hadn’t added a Republican-priority child protection law to the state Legislature’s to-do list for their current special session.

At issue are gender mutilation procedures: currently in Texas, medical professionals are allowed to cut off children’s healthy body parts as part of gender surgeries or chemically castrate them by giving them sterilizing cross-sex hormones and puberty blocker drugs.

“During the last legislative session, there was a bill to prevent the gender modification of minors. It didn’t pass,” stated the moderator in the event room at First Baptist Dallas. He went on to ask Abbott, “So the question is, why hasn’t that been placed on the special called sessions at this time?”

The issue surfaced in large part because of the high-profile case of Jeff Younger’s 9-year-old son, James, whose mother wanted to force him—against Jeff’s wishes—to take sterilizing drugs and eventually be castrated.

Why Is This So Difficult?

Since the national coverage of the case two years ago, stopping the mutilation of minors became a Republican Party of Texas priority (with nearly 2 million Texans also voting in the 2020 GOP primary to ban the procedures in a Republican primary election). But earlier this year, the Republican-controlled state Legislature rejected several child protection laws that would have outlawed the operations.

Meanwhile, Abbott remained quiet on the issue for nearly two years until July, when he finally broke his silence on a radio interview. Abbott told talk show host Mark Davis the proposed child protection laws had a “nil” chance of making it through the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, a comment that sparked shock and confusion among citizens.

“Why?” Davis replied to Abbott. “Why, in a conservative state with Republicans in charge … a law that says we’re not going to let you carve up your 10th grader because he thinks he’s a girl. How in God’s name does that not pass in Texas?”

“Uh, I can’t—I—I can’t answer for that other than I can game the odds,” Abbott said.

A few weeks later, Abbott made an “announcement” on the matter—by sending a public letter to the Department of Family and Protective Services and asking them to decide if cutting off kids’ healthy body parts in such surgeries classifies as child abuse.

“So, first … I think everybody here can agree that gender modification by surgical procedure is physical abuse of a child,” Abbott told the audience this week, speaking from the event room’s theater stage. “Obviously, it’s disappointing, as [the moderator] pointed out, [that] the Legislature failed to pass it. And so, I didn’t want to waste any time on this in hoping or trying to get the Legislature to do that which it has not done before.”

“And so, I just talked to the person who is the head of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, so that’s the Child Protection Agency,” Abbott continued. “And I asked her to define child abuse as including surgical sexual change procedure of a minor.”

Though DFPS confirmed in August that those operations are indeed abuse and could result in a Class A misdemeanor penalty, they later refused to say that chemically castrating a child—the far more common method—is also abuse. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has also not responded to similar inquiries.

Still Refusing to Act

Before and after the DFPS letter this summer, Abbott had the opportunity to task the state Legislature with passing the child protection law during their July, August, and now October special sessions, but he has declined to do so during all three. Legislators generally only consider the governor’s priorities during a special session.

“But will there be any attempt to put it on the session, to make it a law in this state?” the moderator pressed Abbott.

“We–we–we do need—great question,” Abbott replied. “So, we do need it as a law. And it would be stronger, obviously, if the Legislature would pass it, and I want to see the Legislature pass it.”

Abbott declined again to say whether he would add the issue to the Legislature’s list—though, notably, he did include dog tethering on his list of priorities for the current October session.

“That Gov. Abbott would place legislation to ban dog tethering on the third special session instead of protecting children from this rapidly growing destructive phenomenon is appalling,” Texas GOP committee chairwoman Glover told Texas Scorecard.

“It’s past time for Greg Abbott to put an end to the games and be honest with voters about where he stands on these issues,” said Don Huffines, former state senator and current Republican candidate for governor. “He can either demand legislation to protect vulnerable kids from abusers … or he can come out as an ally of the transgender movement.”

What Now?

Despite all of that, a handful of Republican state lawmakers have again proposed similar child protection laws in the current 30-day session. Three different bills (House Bill 26, Senate Bill 28, and similar companion House Bill 22) aim to stop the mutilation procedures.

All of the bills, however, are currently untouched and have not moved forward in the legislative process.

Meanwhile, Texas children such as James Younger face potential disfigurement for the rest of their lives.

As the state Legislature has less than a week remaining in their current special session, concerned citizens may contact their representatives and Gov. Abbott.

Jacob Asmussen

Jacob Asmussen is a Senior Journalist for Texas Scorecard. He attended the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor and in 2017 earned a double major in public relations and piano performance.