How a Trump Appointee Weaponized His Religious Beliefs to Deny Care to Immigrant Girls

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Analysis Abortion

How a Trump Appointee Weaponized His Religious Beliefs to Deny Care to Immigrant Girls

Tina Vasquez

"This is a man who clearly doesn't believe in science or facts and who has no problem making decisions for women based on his personal beliefs."

When Scott Lloyd became director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), his appointment came with little fanfarehe was another “mid-level government bureaucrat,” according to immigration advocates.

But when news broke this month that he was stopping an unaccompanied immigrant minor in ORR care from accessing abortion careand that it wasn’t the first timehe made national headlines.

A closer look at Lloyd’s background indicates that he may not only be unqualified and ill-equipped to lead ORR, but that he was another ideological pick by the Trump administration whose personal beliefs mirror those of anti-choice extremists and men’s rights activists.

One needs to look at Lloyd’s writings to understand that his near-successful attempt at blocking Jane Doe from accessing abortion care had little to do with the teenager or concern for her “well-being,” as indicated by the government’s counsel in court proceedings.

Roe has collapsed and Texas is in chaos.

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Lloyd in 2011 had a series of opinion pieces published on Ethika Politika, a blog for the Center for Morality in Public Life, that illustrate his extreme views on reproductive health.

In one post, Lloyd wrote, “Every effort to reduce the demand for abortion is a worthy one, so long as it produces some results.” In another post, he praised anti-choice tactics, such as organizing protests at clinics, staffing anti-choice fake clinicsreligiously-affiliated groups that counsel women against having abortionsand passing abortion restrictions, including the creation of parental consent requirements like the one for which Jane Doe received a judicial bypass. She still had her abortion procedure delayed for weeks by the Trump administration.

As BuzzFeed reported, Lloyd’s opinion pieces have shown his belief that laws should force people seeking abortion care to first receive consent from men. According to Lloyd, “The Supreme Court has implied, perhaps without realizing it, that the physical realities of pregnancy for the woman will serve to imbue her most weightless rationales with the magic ability to trump a man’s right to procreation, and his right in his children.”

Lloyd has said that women who get no-copay contraception should have to “swear they won’t get an abortion.” He has pushed the anti-choice lie that “contraceptives are the cause of abortion” and that “if we did not have contraceptives in this country, we would not have anywhere near the abortion rate we do now.”

The ORR director has asserted that “all funds for contraceptives, in all forms, and at all levels of the government, should be eliminated,” and has written that “nothing could be further from the truth …. You can’t be pro-life and pro-contraception.

Lloyd’s most disturbing piece about contraception was published in August 2011 and in it, the ORR director seems to suggest that using contraception is akin to having an abortion, an assertion that has no basis in reality.

“… [L]arge, rich, and powerful corporations are telling many women and men who would have an objection to abortion that their actions are not causing one, when in fact they are,” Lloyd wrote. “… the Obama Administration’s adoption of a policy recommending coverage at no immediate cost to the consumer of several forms of contraceptives that fit into the most accurate definition of abortion above, although the empowering statute forbids funding abortions. In other words, our tax dollars are being used to help trick people into aborting their own children, when they would not do so if someone was not lying to them.”

Lloyd’s early writings were compiled into a resource document by Emily Aden, the rapid response director at American Bridge. Aden oversees the organization’s new women’s health initiative, which has an “oppositional research team” that digs into the background of lower-level Trump administration appointees who usually avoid having their backgrounds and histories scrutinized.

“It’s basically a vetting process for people who usually don’t have to undergo the same public vetting process that cabinet-level appointees do,” Aden said. “Think about it: These are people who, day-in, day-out, make huge decisions that impact people like Jane Doe’s lives, but whose decisions largely go unnoticed.”

The Office of Refugee Resettlement has not been without controversy. In 2016, the Washington Post reported that overwhelmed by the influx of unaccompanied immigrant minors, ORR released children into the care of human traffickers and into situations in which they were being exploited and abused by sponsors. The Trump administration has ushered in a new kind of abuse.

While purporting to care for unaccompanied immigrant minors’ health and well being, ORR essentially held Jane Doe “hostage” so she could not access abortion care. ORR has shown little to no regard for the health and well being of Rosamaria Hernandez, a 10-year-old with cerebral palsy.

On the U.S. side of the border, Hernandez had to go through a Border Patrol checkpoint to get to a Corpus Christi hospital for gall bladder surgery. Border Patrol sent multiple vehicles to escort her to the hospital, and stayed outside of her room until she was discharged. Border Patrol refused to allow the child to be returned to her parents in Laredo. Instead, she was referred to the Office of Refugee Resettlement and has been placed in a shelter without her parents. According to the family’s attorney, Leticia Gonzalez, the shelter is ill-equipped to provide Hernandez with both the daily care and the post-surgery care she requires.

Hernandez’s fate may hang in the balance, but the outcome of Jane Doe’s case under the Trump administration was considered a rare bright spot by advocates. After a lengthy court battle and weeks of delay, the 17-year-old was able to access abortion care Wednesday. But Aden is concerned that right wing lawmakers and officials will see her case as a win.

“I’m happy Jane Doe’s case received national attention, but this has happened to other young women and it should be considered an ongoing crisis. Look at what this one man was able to do. I have no doubt he’s being cheered by the right wing, who will now look for other examples of mid-level bureaucrats in other agencies to make similar decisions and policy changes,” Aden said. “The Trump administration is empowering people like Lloyd, who are mid-level bureaucrats no one has even heard of, to make decisions they have no experience or legal right to make. It is his job to provide health and legal care to refugees and in Jane Doe’s case, he intentionally blocked her from accessing heath care and told his staff not to let her meet with attorneys, all based on his own personal beliefs.”

Nothing in Lloyd’s professional background suggests he is qualified to head ORR, yet he’s been tasked with overseeing the day-to-day care of the world’s most vulnerable people: child refugees, many of whom came to the United States to escape persecution and gender-based violence.

Before becoming ORR director, Lloyd was an attorney for the Catholic charity Knights of Columbus and served on the board of the Front Royal Pregnancy Center, an anti-choice fake clinic. Lloyd is affiliated with a network of religious organizations, including Human Life International, Veritatis Splendor, and the WitnessWorks Foundation. These organizations are affiliated and encourage members to “undertake no legal matters, nor any legal strategies, that conflict with Church Teachings [sic].” Under George W. Bush, Lloyd as a Health and Human Services official, advocated for a rule protecting health-care providers that oppose abortion rights on religious grounds.

“This is absolutely an ideological pick by the Trump administration; Lloyd has spent his career pushing an anti-choice agenda,” Aden told Rewire. “This is part of a larger pattern we’re seeing in the Trump administration, but Lloyd appears to be particularly unqualified for his role.”

It appears Lloyd does not believe undocumented people in ORR custody have constitutional rights, including the right to access abortion care.

Lloyd testified on Thursday at the House Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee hearing on the oversight of the United States Refugee Admissions Program, never deviating from his prepared statement and not once mentioning reproductive care, despite making it a central focus of his oversight. This includes a revised policy “that allows [shelters] to wield an unconstitutional veto power over unaccompanied immigrant minors’ access to abortion,” according to court documents. This directive prevents unaccompanied immigrant minors from obtaining abortion care by prohibiting federally funded shelters from taking “‘any action that facilitates’ abortion access to unaccompanied minors in their care without ‘direction and approval’” from Lloyd. 

At Thursday’s hearing, a visibly nervous Lloyd was unable to answer basic questions from committee members about his treatment of unaccompanied immigrant minors in ORR custody.

In a letter this month to Eric Hargan, the acting secretary of Health and Human Services, the agency that oversees ORR, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), the ranking member of the Immigration and Border Security Subcommittee, requested ORR’s policy regarding unaccompanied immigrant minors’ access to abortion, which has yet to be provided.

During Thursday’s hearing, Lofgren repeatedly asked Lloyd if girls and young women in ORR custody have constitutional rights and Lloyd repeatedly sidestepped the question, saying that those coming to the United States have “the potential to become a full U.S. citizen with full rights to all the freedoms we enjoy,” but that it’s “a process … as a person moves through the process, they gain additional rights.”

Lofgren asked Lloyd if he has personally intervened, visiting minors in shelters to persuade them not to move forward with abortion care, including Jane Doe. Lloyd said he could not discuss Jane Doe’s case because of “court orders.”

“As director, I’m out in the field in many of our locations and I meet with dozens, perhaps hundreds of people who we serve,” Lloyd said, after Lofgren pushed the issue. “Among them, I’m certain some were pregnant at the time.”

Lofgren said during the hearing that she was “disturbed” Lloyd would not answer her questions. In an emailed statement to Rewire, Lofgren said, “It’s disturbing that Director Lloyd didn’t seem to understand the U.S. Constitution and was unable to answer simple questions from members of the committee. And they put this guy in charge?”

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), who directed her questions to Lloyd, appeared equally disturbed by the ORR director’s refusal to provide a yes or no answer regarding his belief as to whether a woman’s constitutional right to abortion depends on her immigration status. Jayapal asked Lloyd if he had medical training or any training counseling young people. He did not answer either question directly, but said he relies on experts inside ORR to advise him when those situations arise.

“What expertise in this Jane Doe case makes you qualified to override the determination of a Texas state court that Jane Doe is mature and competent enough to make her own decision?” Jayapal asked.

Lloyd, again, said he would not comment on the specifics of Jane Doe’s case. Jayapal then asked if anyone was allowed to override Lloyd’s decision, or if he got final say on a “woman’s ability to exercise her constitutional right to abortion,” as outlined in ORR’s new policy.

“The Office of Refugee Resettlement is situated within the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Administration for Children and Families. I answer to the assistant secretary of Children and Families and to the secretary of [HHS],” Lloyd said, implying that his decision to block abortion care for teens in ORR custody is sanctioned from the highest levels of HHS.

Within hours of the hearing, the government watchdog group Campaign for Accountability, filed a complaint against Lloyd and released a statement calling on the Virginia State Bar to investigate whether Lloyd violated the Virginia State Bar Rules of Professional Conduct.

“Mr. Lloyd deliberately violated the U.S. Constitution and other federal and state laws to prevent unaccompanied pregnant immigrant minors from obtaining abortions,” the statement said. 

Bethany Van Kampen, a policy analyst at the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH), was present at Thursday’s hearing when Lloyd testified. NLIRH partnered with the Planned Parenthood Action Fund (PPFA) to co-write a letter to the HHS acting secretary’s regarding the “mistreatment and abuse of power over 17-year-old Jane Doe” and demanding that ORR “immediately restore access to reproductive health care services and information, including abortion, for Jane and the thousands of other young people in ORR’s custody.” More than 100 organizations signed the letter in less than 48 hours. Protesters with the ACLU, PPFA, and NARAL delivered 75,000 petitions to Lloyd during Thursday’s hearing, calling for the director and the Trump administration to reverse their anti-choice policy, according to PPFA.

Van Kampen told Rewire that the Trump administration’s treatment of Jane Doe is part of a larger shameful legacy in the United States, one that seeks to “control Black and brown bodies.” She said she finds it egregious that an agency tasked with the everyday care of vulnerable, young girls, many of whom fled gender-based violence and were raped en route to the United States, is engaging in “truly traumatizing behaviors.”

“What ORR and Scott Lloyd [are] doing to these young girls is unconscionable. Can you imagine the strength it would take to endure this? Think about what it took for her to get to the U.S., what she was escaping. What it required of her to stand in front of the judge to get a judicial bypass, and then still have the determination and the fortitude to fight every step of the way to execute her decision,” Van Kampen said. “This agency has been emotionally abusive. Forcing someone to carry an unwanted pregnancy is abusive. Having to wake up, each day, carrying an unwanted pregnancy and not knowing if you will receive the care you’ve asked for, the care you have a right to access, is tortuous. They waged mental warfare on Jane Doe.”

Even though there is a bigger spotlight on ORR and Lloyd’s personal beliefs, which he has weaponized against immigrant girls, Aden fears the media will treat Jane Doe’s case as an isolated incident. She said it’s important to remain vigilant to ensure the Lloyd is held accountable “each and every time” he attempts to block access to reproductive health care.

“This is a man who clearly doesn’t believe in science or facts and who has no problem making decisions for women based on his personal beliefs,” Aden said. “This is an anti-immigrant administration who employs anti-immigrant people. Scott Lloyd is like the perfect storm for Trump. His behavior around the Jane Doe case shows us he is anti-immigrant, anti-woman, anti-health care, and anti-facts. The terrifying thing is that the women in [Lloyd’s] care have no options; they’re in this government’s care and they’re at the mercy of the Trump administration. I couldn’t imagine a worse place to be as an undocumented immigrant woman seeking an abortion.”