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HHS Official Does Not Deny Agency’s Role in Immigrants’ Abortion Decisions

Central American migrants climb off a freight train during their journey toward the U.S.-Mexico border in Ixtepec, Mexico, on July 12, 2014. (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo)

WASHINGTON – Speaking before Congress on Thursday, Scott Lloyd, director of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement, did not deny that his agency has persuaded immigrant minors not to have abortions.

Lloyd has been at the center of a controversy involving a 17-year-old undocumented, unaccompanied minor identified in court as Jane Doe, who was allegedly blocked for several weeks from abortion services while in ORR custody in Texas. She had the baby aborted on Wednesday, according to multiple media reports.

Last week, U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan ordered that ORR allow Doe to leave the Texas facility and get access to the procedure, but the federal government appealed. The Washington Post reported that Lloyd, a pro-life advocate, has “personally intervened” in trying to persuade unaccompanied minors from having abortions.

During a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) asked Lloyd directly if his office has ever tried to persuade an individual on an abortion decision.

Lloyd said that while he is limited in his ability to answer questions, his office has dealt with dozens, if not hundreds, of individuals from the refugee population.

“Among them I’m certain that some of them were pregnant at the time,” Lloyd said.

“I’m disturbed that you won’t answer the question,” Lofgren responded.

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) expressed frustration that Chutkan, an un-elected judge, has the “unconditional right” to allow an abortion for a minor who “snuck into the United States” and is subject to deportation. Doe was taken into custody on Sept. 11 at the U.S.-Mexico border, according to Vox.

“(Doe) had full ability to go back to her home country willingly and subject herself to the laws of her home country, so I think that this is a terrible precedent that’s been set by this judge,” King said.

In the future, King said he hopes that the full committee will address the issue of “rogue judges” in the United States who have cropped up in the controversy surrounding President Trump’s executive order banning travel from several Muslim-majority countries. He specifically called out Hawaii’s U.S. District Court Judge Derrick Watson, who has been instrumental in blocking certain aspects of Trump’s travel ban. These judges, King argued, are openly challenging the statutes of the United States that have been approved by Congress and signed by the president and are turning them “upside down.”

“Congress has granted the president the authority to determine who comes and who goes from the United States of America with the security interests of America in mind, and it doesn’t say that a judge anywhere can look over his shoulder and determine that (their) judgment is flawed and his superior,” King said.

The committee’s ranking member, John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.), spoke generally in support of refugees entering the U.S., arguing that his Detroit area district has benefited greatly from their presence. He cited a National Bureau of Economic Research report showing that refugees ages 18 to 45 pay about $21,000 more in taxes than the cost of their social benefits for the first 20 years in the country.

The U.S. government in 2016 accepted 85,000 refugees. Trump, as part of the travel ban, capped refugee entries at 50,000 for 2017, and the White House has proposed a 45,000 refugee cap for 2018.