HOUSTON (AP) — Shortly after taking over the U.S. government office that oversees facilities for unaccompanied immigrant children, Scott Lloyd told a subordinate what to do with a teenager who wanted an abortion.
Facilities under HHS “should not be supporting abortion services pre or post-release,” but rather “life-affirming options counseling,” Lloyd wrote in an email. And the person seeking an abortion “should not be meeting with an attorney regarding her termination” or seeking a waiver exempting her from a state requirement that minors get a parent’s consent, he wrote in another.
The apparent new policy is being put to the test, as lawyers have gone to court to try to force the government to allow a 17-year-old Central American being held at a Texas facility to get an abortion. They accuse the Trump administration of trying to stop any immigrant teens in government custody from terminating a pregnancy.
“She’s being used as a pawn,” Rochelle Garza, a lawyer appointed to represent the interests of the teen, told The Associated Press on Thursday. She declined to give her client’s name and native country due to privacy concerns.
The teen is as much as 14 weeks pregnant in a state that bans most abortions after the 20th week and she’s feeling hopeless, Garza said. On Wednesday, a federal judge in San Francisco said the government can’t prevent the teen from getting an abortion, but she said the case was filed in the wrong jurisdiction and declined to order the government not to interfere with the teen’s abortion access. Garza and the other lawyers, including some from the American Civil Liberties Union, filed a new complaint Friday in federal district court in Washington, D.C.
The ACLU included Lloyd’s emails in a filing in the case against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees facilities for children who arrive on their own in the U.S. illegally.
HHS didn’t respond to questions about whether it has a formal policy restricting immigrants in its care from seeking abortions. But last month, it issued a draft of its department-wide strategic plan for 2018 to 2022 that defines its mission as “serving and protecting Americans at every stage of life, beginning at conception.”
The agency also didn’t reply to detailed questions about the emails, many of which had large portions blacked out. It has roughly 5,000 children currently in custody, though it did not say how many are pregnant. It did issue a statement Wednesday saying it is “providing excellent care to the adolescent girl and her unborn child, who remain under our care until the mother’s release.”
Lloyd became director of HHS’ Office of Refugee Resettlement in March after working for the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic group that opposes abortion. In an email dated March 14, Lloyd followed up on a visit with a pregnant teenager living at a facility for unaccompanied children. He asked for the shelter to meet her requests for bananas and soup, and to give her a more comfortable mattress.
“Please have her clinician keep a close eye on her,” Lloyd wrote. “As I’ve said, often these girls start to regret abortion, and if this comes up, we need to connect her with resources for psychological and/or religious counseling.”
He also offered to connect the teen with “a few good families” who would “see her through her pregnancy.”
In a March 24 email, Lloyd said a girl who was pregnant should be offered “spiritual counseling” or taken for an ultrasound to a crisis pregnancy center. Such facilities seek to discourage women from having abortions.
“She should not be meeting with an attorney regarding her termination or otherwise pursuing judicial bypass at this point,” Lloyd said.
Susan Hays, legal director of Jane’s Due Process, which helps pregnant minors in Texas to get abortions, accused HHS of being “turned over to ideological extremists who want to use the power of the federal government to impose their religion on everyone else.”
Hays, whose group is working with the 17-year-old now seeking an abortion, said another teen earlier this year obtained the judicial bypass required by Texas law and began a medication abortion, which is administered by pills taken on two successive days.
The first pill was administered on a Friday, but before the second pill could be given Saturday, HHS ordered the facility holding the teen not to let her have it, Hays said. Starting but not completing the abortion could have put the teenager’s life at risk.
After Hays and others intervened and threatened to go to court, the teen was allowed to complete the abortion that Sunday, she said.
“That is a dystopian future for teenage girls who are forced to do that, and that’s what ORR is doing today,” Hays said.
Garza said she is wrongly being denied access to her client, even though she has been appointed a guardian under the law and obtained a judicial bypass order.
The teen will turn 18 before her pregnancy would reach full term, which could lead to her being transferred to an adult detention facility run by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Garza said she fears the teen will be forced to have the child in adult detention or deported back to Central America, where she witnessed her parents beat a sister who was pregnant.
“It’s going to get to the point where there aren’t more options, and then what’s going to happen?” Garza said.
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