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A Trump administration agency has been tracking migrant minors’ pregnancies and whether they want abortions — despite a court order to not interfere with minors’ access to the procedure, according to documents obtained by a Freedom of Information Act request.
As far back as October 2017 and as recently as March, the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), which cares for minors who enter the country without authorization or a guardian, was keeping a spreadsheet of pregnant minors in their custody, which government transparency researcher Russ Kick published late last week. The agency also continued to keep tabs on them after Scott Lloyd — the agency’s then-director and a longtime opponent of abortion — transferred to another role within the Trump administration this past November.
“I think that the real fundamental question is, why? Why is ORR continuing to track this level of detail of minors who are pregnant in ORR custody?” said Brigitte Amiri, deputy director at the American Civil Liberties Union’s Reproductive Freedom Project, who represents four teenagers who sued the ORR over accusations that it refused to let them get abortions. “I don’t know that anyone has got to the bottom of that question.”
A spokesperson for the Administration for Children and Families, a division of the Department of Health and Human Services that oversees the Office of Refugee Resettlement, said they had nothing further to provide.
The teenagers sued the Office of Refugee Resettlement between late 2017 and early 2018. That February, VICE News reported that Lloyd had received a weekly spreadsheet with information on every pregnant minor in the agency’s custody, including how far along the minor was in her pregnancy and whether she wanted an abortion.
One month later, in March 2018, a federal judge forbade the agency and Lloyd from blocking minors’ access to abortion counseling and care. That case is still working its way through the court system, but the order remains in effect.
In addition to listing the fetus’ gestational age, the spreadsheet published by Kick includes information about whether the pregnancy arose from consensual sex and whether “TOP” — or “termination of pregnancy” — had been requested. Its last entry is dated March 7, or shortly before Kick filed his request under the Freedom of Information Act.
Despite the spreadsheet, the ACLU has not seen any evidence that the Office of Refugee Resettlement is blocking minors from getting abortions, Amiri said. Amiri now plans to consult with her team about whether the ACLU should raise the issue of the spreadsheet in court.
“If this data collection is being used for some purpose that would help ORR, you know, obstruct or interfere with access, if it's being for those purposes, I think that is what the concern would be,” Amiri said.
Bob Carey, who led the Office of Refugee Resettlement during the Obama administration, told VICE News that a minor’s case file might record information about sexual assault, since that could impact what kind of counseling the minor needs. During Carey’s tenure, the agency also kept a total tally of pregnant and parenting teens within its custody, to ensure that they were placed in appropriate shelters.
But Carey was not aware of any effort, at that time, to aggregate information about pregnant minors who wanted abortions into one document.
“I could see a benign interpretation for why that might be done — just in terms of tracking, you know, how many girls are coming in what state of pregnancy, did it most likely happen in country of origin or in transit based on the gestational age,” Carey said.
But, he added, “There’s still people at HHS who may have a policy agenda around access to family planning services.”
The Office of Refugee Resettlement’s tendency to track migrant minors’ pregnancies has long dogged the agency and its officials. In February, Lloyd testified before the House Judiciary Committee and said that he’d never tracked the menstrual cycles of women in ORR’s custody. (A spreadsheet that included the gestational age of a fetus would indicate the approximate date of a woman’s last period.)
A few weeks after Lloyd’s testimony to Congress, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow aired redacted versions of ORR’s spreadsheet of pregnant minors on her show, with entries from June 2018, after the judge’s court order. Afterward, House Judiciary Committee chairman and Democratic Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York sent Lloyd a letter calling his testimony “inconsistent with documentation” and asking Lloyd to clarify his comments.
Nadler’s office didn’t immediately return a VICE News inquiry about whether Lloyd ever responded to that letter.
While Lloyd led the Office of Refugee Resettlement, he required all teens who wanted an abortion to ask for his personal approval. But in a deposition with the ACLU, Lloyd struggled to name a scenario where he’d approve such a request; at various points during his time at the agency, he denied a raped teenager’s request for an abortion and discussed trying to “reverse” another’s. In a novel Lloyd published late last year, a character compares abortion to “murder.”
Cover image: Jane Doe, one of the pregnant migrant teens, who sued the Trump administration. (VICE News)