Officials working for the Trump administration took a 16-year-old immigrant who wanted an abortion to a religiously affiliated anti-abortion facility for counseling about her pregnancy. There, she was provided with “appropriate drawings to color and with Bible verses,” according to a government email reviewed by VICE News.
The teen had become pregnant after being raped by a group of men in her home country, according to the email, which was obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request by the government watchdog group the Campaign for Accountability. After arriving in the United States, the teenager entered the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), which oversees the care of underage migrants who enter the country without authorization and without their parents.
The teen was taken to the anti-abortion facility in January 2018, during the tenure of former ORR Director Scott Lloyd, a longtime abortion opponent who wanted to personally sign off on every request for an abortion made by a teenager in his agency’s care. Lloyd, who was appointed by the Trump administration, was transferred to another position within the Department of Health and Human Services in November.
It is unclear whether the teen who visited the facility in January ever received the procedure. But four other teens ultimately sued the department for refusing to allow them to get abortions while in its care.
On Monday, the Campaign for Accountability filed a request for an investigation with the Department of Health and Human Services’ inspector general over the emails.
“It appears Mr. Lloyd grossly misused his position as director of ORR to pursue his own personal and religious agenda”
“It appears Mr. Lloyd grossly misused his position as director of ORR to pursue his own personal and religious agenda, violating constitutional and federal law, and harming the teenage girls his agency is charged with protecting,” the Campaign, which supports abortion rights, wrote in its complaint.
The complaint alleges that Lloyd replied to an email about the teenager who wanted an abortion in January. In it, Lloyd asked that she be told that “support is readily available” if she wanted to become a parent and that “in some cases, women or minors who have had abortions have expressed regret from having done so, even when pregnancy is the result of sexual assault.”
VICE News reviewed emails alleged to have been written by Lloyd, which are not signed. VICE News could not verify the Campaign for Accountability’s assertion that Lloyd wrote and sent the emails.
A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families, which oversees ORR, declined to provide additional comment in response to several emailed questions about the events described in the emails.
In an email sent to Lloyd on Jan. 17, Jonathan White, a longtime government employee who at the time worked for the Office of Refugee Resettlement, detailed the steps taken to address the teenager’s pregnancy and request for an abortion. The teenager isn’t named, but White wrote that she had became pregnant after being raped by a group of men in her unnamed home country. She said she'd never before had a sexual experience.
The teenager was taken to “options counseling” at a so-called crisis pregnancy center named Choices Pregnancy Center, in Arizona, White wrote. He also noted in the email that the facility was on a list of providers approved by the Department of Health and Human Services. Crisis pregnancy centers, which are frequently faith-based institutions, aim to convince women not to have abortions. Choices Pregnancy Center has four medically licensed locations in Arizona, does not perform or refer patients for abortions, and belongs to the Christian nonprofit CPC of Greater Phoenix, according to its website.
A government clinician told the teenager’s family about the pregnancy in January but not about the rape, at the teen’s request, according to White’s email. Still, her parents approved of the teenager’s decision to end the pregnancy; in Arizona, a minor can obtain an abortion if one of her parents agrees to the procedure and provides notarized consent. The teen, who is an evangelical Christian, also met with a pastor, per White’s email.
“All the steps outlined by the ORR Director have been completed,” White wrote.
The Campaign for Accountability argues that the the Office of Refugee Resettlement’s actions violated both government policy and the Establishment Clause of the Constitution by injecting religion into what’s supposed to be a secular government agency.
“Neither requiring pregnant immigrant minors to undergo health counseling offered by a religiously-based CPC [crisis pregnancy center] nor providing these teenagers with Bible verses has any secular purpose,” the group wrote in its complaint. The Campaign for Accountability added, “Mr. Lloyd’s continued effort to thwart UAC’s efforts to obtain an abortion — even after her parents explicitly authorized the procedure — is a clear violation of ORR guidelines.” (“UAC” stands for “Unaccompanied Alien Child,” the technical term for minors in the Office of Refugee Resettlement’s care.)
This was not the first time a teenager who wanted an abortion while in the Office of Refugee Resettlement’s care was taken to a crisis pregnancy center. In March 2017, Lloyd advised staffers to send a teen who wanted an abortion to CPC of Greater Phoenix for an ultrasound and options counseling, court records show. Jane Doe, the first immigrant teenager to sue the Office of Refugee Resettlement over its refusal to allow her to get an abortion, in October 2017, was also made to visit a crisis pregnancy center, according to court documents.
Seven teenagers in ORR custody asked for abortions between March and December 2017, and another five subsequently asked for abortions between December 2017 and February 2018, according to depositions of White. In one deposition, however, Lloyd struggled to name a scenario where he would approve a request for an abortion.
In March, a federal judge granted the lawsuit of the four teenagers’ lawsuit class-action status, issuing a sweeping injunction against the agency that prevented it from interfering with minors’ access to abortion. Brigitte Amiri, who represented Jane Doe and the three other teenagers who sued ORR as the deputy director at the ACLU's Reproductive Freedom Project, told VICE News that she had not seen evidence that the ORR was violating that order.
Amiri said that she was previously not aware of the teenager’s request for an abortion and visit to the crisis pregnancy center in January. But she’s not surprised that her request is only surfacing now.
“This is before we had a class action, it was before we had a preliminary injunction. We have no idea what happened to this person,” Amiri said. “We knew there were others out there that we didn’t know about.”
In October, the Campaign for Accountability filed another complaint with the Department of Health and Human Services’ inspector general, accusing Lloyd of violating ethics rules by forwarding an email sent by his former employer to one of his staffers. In a January 2017 executive order, President Donald Trump generally barred his appointees from participating in matters involving their former employers in any professional capacity.
The email included forwarded conversations about potentially using a building owned by a religious order to house refugees, although the government did not end up using that building, VICE News found.
Cover: In this Oct. 20, 2017, photo, activists with Planned Parenthood demonstrate in support of a pregnant 17-year-old being held in a Texas facility for unaccompanied immigrant children to obtain an abortion, outside of the Department of Health and Human Services in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite File)