A top Department of Health and Human Services official looked into “reversing” the abortion of an undocumented teenager in the agency’s custody last year, according to a report in Vice. Scott Lloyd, the director of the department’s Office of Refugee Resettlement, admitted in a deposition that he had talked to colleagues about the possibility of giving the young woman a shot of progesterone—an unproven means, promoted by anti-choice activists, of halting an in-progress abortion—after she’d taken the first of the two drugs that make up a medical abortion.
Lloyd has been the most visible force behind the Trump administration’s legal battle to keep unaccompanied, undocumented minors in HHS custody from accessing abortion care. He first drew national attention when a federal judge ordered the administration in October to let an undocumented teenager in a Texas shelter terminate her pregnancy. (Minors in Texas must obtain permission from a parent or judge if they want an abortion; a judge had already signed off on this teen’s procedure.) Earlier in the year, Lloyd had directed such federally-funded shelters to stop taking any steps to help minors in their care secure doctor’s appointments or transportation related to abortions. He also ordered shelter employees to prevent undocumented abortion-seeking minors from attending their doctor’s appointments, and instead take them to “crisis pregnancy centers”—offices that appear to be medical facilities where one might get an abortion, but are usually religiously-funded organizations that aim to talk women out of the procedure. Lloyd even called one pregnant teen to try to personally convince her to abandon her plans for an abortion.
In a December deposition obtained by Vice, Brigitte Amiri, an attorney at the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project, confronted Lloyd about a March 2017 HHS memo that said doctors at a hospital had detected a fetal heartbeat more than a day after a pregnant undocumented teen in ORR custody had taken the first of two abortion drugs. Amiri asked Lloyd why ORR employees had brought the girl to the hospital in the first place. “Did you have conversations about whether the medication abortion could be reversed?” she asked Lloyd. “I may have,” he replied. When she asked him why, he said, “to save the life of the baby.”
According to the memo, ORR officials forced the teen to wait several hours before taking the second pill while doctors looked into the “health status” of the “unborn child.” Vice also reports that ORR employees emailed the clinic that prescribed the teen’s abortion medication to ask about using progesterone “for the purpose of aborting a chemical abortion process.”
Abortion reversal is about as close to a medical myth as one can find: The only research on the procedure comes from a single unscientific paper written by an openly anti-choice doctor, who advertises abortion reversal with an apocryphal story of a teenage couple who successfully reversed a medication abortion, “trusting that God would guide them.” The 2012 paper details the cases of seven women injected with progesterone after taking the first abortion drug (mifepristone, which causes the cervix to dilate and the uterine lining to slough off) and before the second (misoprostol, which causes uterine contractions). Of the seven women, the paper reports, at least four carried their pregnancies to term. But there have been no scientific studies with controls or sample sizes of any note to determine whether the procedure is safe or effective. States that have passed laws requiring abortion providers to inform their patients of the “abortion reversal” option are essentially encouraging anti-choice doctors to use pregnant women as guinea pigs.
Though Vice’s reporting didn’t uncover any evidence that ORR officials took medical actions to halt the teen’s March 2017 abortion, the fact that a government agency sent a doctor’s office an email questionnaire to ask about performing an untested reproductive health procedure on an undocumented teenager helps illuminate the Trump administration’s wanton inhumanity toward the minors in its care. The teen mentioned in the March 2017 memo had already received a judge’s permission to terminate her pregnancy, which she said was the result of a rape. Not only were Lloyd and his employees still willing to take up every legal battle to try to make her give birth against her will, but they also subjected her to an unnecessary hospital visit and readily considered forcing her into an unwanted procedure backed by no medical evidence. Instead of helping an unaccompanied minor seek safe medical treatment and compassionate care, they made her a political pawn.
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