A leading Trump administration official in charge of key immigration and refugee decisions has said he does not believe undocumented immigrants have a constitutional right to abortion.
In a suit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the organization argues Scott Lloyd, the director of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), denied seven abortion requests between March and late December 2017. Lloyd, who oversees the care of undocumented minors in the United States, argued in a December deposition that those same minors had “no constitutional right to abortion” due to their immigration status.
Rather than comply with requests for abortions, Lloyd told ACLU attorney Brigitte Amiri that under his direction, ORR sends the teenagers to shelters encouraged by Lloyd to provide “life-affirming” counseling.
“Life-affirming options counseling does not exclude information about life-negating options,” Lloyd said when prompted by Amiri. “It just affirms the life options … the ones that involve or don’t involve the destruction of life.”
Lloyd also said he personally believes abortion is the “destruction of life” but argued that he was capable of maintaining objectivity in how he handled interactions with undocumented young people seeking abortions.
But the ACLU feels differently. Over the last few months, the organization represented four young undocumented immigrants in Lloyd’s care who requested abortions. All were initially denied and faced a steep uphill battle in their efforts to obtain the procedure, which is legal and constitutionally-protected. They were all ultimately granted abortions — but only after the organization pursued legal action.
In a statement published by the ACLU in October, one of the minors (referred to as Jane Doe) criticized the government over the response her request sparked.
“While the government provides for most of my needs at the shelter, they have not allowed me to leave to get an abortion,” she wrote. “Instead, they made me see a doctor that tried to convince me not to abort and to look at sonograms. People I don’t even know are trying to make me change my mind.”
Lloyd has played an active role in that response. The director suggested “a few good families” to one teenager, who might give her a home throughout her pregnancy. To another, who sought an abortion following rape, Lloyd argued both abortion and rape were similar forms of “violence.” Lloyd previously worked with the anti-abortion group Knights of Columbus — the world’s largest Catholic fraternal service organization — and has expressed strident anti-choice sentiments on numerous occasions prior to taking his current position with ORR. Since taking the job, Lloyd has not approved a single abortion request.
That’s not all. According to a January report from Vice, Lloyd reportedly discussed using a scientifically unproven, deeply controversial procedure to “reverse” an abortion obtained by one teenager, via the hormone progesterone. The minor ended her pregnancy by taking two abortion medication pills, observing a required waiting period of 24 to 48 hours between doses.
There is no indication that the teenager was forced to take progesterone, but officials did delay her efforts to take the second pill, a revelation published in an ACLU deposition. According to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), progesterone “can cause significant cardiovascular, nervous system and endocrine adverse reactions as well as other side effects,”
Attorneys have expressed concern about Lloyd’s comments, history, and leanings.
“I think it’s deeply troubling that a government appointee, who has sworn to uphold the constitution, thinks that the constitution doesn’t apply to the marginalized population he’s supposed to be in charge of protecting,” Amiri, the ACLU attorney, told BuzzFeed on Wednesday night.
The Department of Justice is notably arguing a point different from Lloyd, whose comments indicate he believes undocumented immigrants are not protected by the constitution. DOJ officials, by contrast, have said that because the teenagers are free to go back to their home countries or locate a sponsor able to assist with the procedure, the government should not have to facilitate abortions for undocumented minors.
But Lloyd’s views are largely in keeping with the Trump administration more broadly. The White House has revived the “global gag rule” restricting international funding for abortions and Vice President Mike Pence argued on Tuesday that abortion will end “in our time.” Trump has also cracked down on immigration of all forms, with an emphasis on undocumented immigrants. The president has targeted sanctuary cities, ended the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, and pushed for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
“There’s no coincidence that the Trump administration is so anti-immigrant, so anti-abortion,” Amiri said. “Picking on unaccompanied immigrant minors is the confluence of two issues that we know that the Trump administration has targeted.”
It is unclear how many young people in the care of ORR may be in need of an abortion. The ACLU’s deposition indicates that every request will be personally reviewed by Lloyd.