Jurisprudence

Scott Lloyd Tells All

In an alarming deposition, the director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement says forcing undocumented minors to carry unwanted pregnancies is in their “best interest.”

Scott Lloyd, director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, testifies during a House Judiciary Committee hearing concerning the oversight of the U.S. refugee admissions program, on Capitol Hill on Oct. 26 in Washington.
Scott Lloyd, director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, testifies during a House Judiciary Committee hearing concerning the oversight of the U.S. refugee admissions program, on Capitol Hill on Oct. 26 in Washington.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Scott Lloyd has devoted a significant chunk of his yearlong tenure in the federal government to a single crusade: attempting to prevent undocumented minors from terminating their unwanted pregnancies. Lloyd, the director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, issued a new policy in March 2017 prohibiting all federally funded shelters from taking “any action that facilitates” abortion for unaccompanied minors without his “direction and approval.” At least five teenagers have since requested abortions; Lloyd has denied all five requests. The American Civil Liberties Union has sued successfully to protect these minors’ constitutional right to abortion access. In March, U.S. District Judge Tanya S. Chutkan blocked the ORR from interfering with any undocumented minors’ reproductive health care in any capacity. (The Justice Department plans to appeal.)

As part of this ongoing litigation, ACLU attorney Brigitte Amiri has deposed Lloyd several times. In the first deposition, taken in December, Lloyd admitted he had considered forcing a minor who had taken the first pill in a medication abortion to attempt an “abortion reversal,” which experts call “unproven and unethical.” During the most recent deposition, taken in February and filed with Chutkan on Wednesday, Lloyd acknowledged more alarming details of his quest to block abortion access—and revealed how little he cares about the well-being of the minors themselves. Here are the most disturbing takeaways.

1. Lloyd Forced Shelter Staff to Provide Minors With Anti-Abortion Propaganda

ORR has already disclosed that Lloyd coerced minors to attend “crisis pregnancy centers” in an effort to counsel them out of receiving abortions. It turns out he required a staffer at one of these shelters to provide a graphic description of the “abortion procedure” to at least one teenager. (The description came from Justice Anthony Kennedy’s infamous opinion in Gonzales v. Carhart.) Lloyd said he did so to ensure that she had “informed consent.” At that point in the deposition, the following exchange took place between Lloyd and the ACLU’s Amiri:

Amiri: Are there other circumstances outside of the abortion context where you have instructed your staff to provide medical informed consent to a minor undergoing a medical procedure?

Lloyd: Not that I recall.

A few minutes later, Lloyd conceded he did not instruct staff to describe the process of childbirth or C-sections to pregnant minors.

Lloyd also compelled the minor to read Texas’ notorious anti-abortion booklet, which asserts, falsely, that abortion often leads to breast cancer, infertility, and depression. Amiri pointed out that the minor in question was not in Texas and asked Lloyd why she would “be asked to read a publication from the state of Texas.” Lloyd told her that “we found it to be a good resource.”

2. Lloyd Conflates His Religious Beliefs With Science

At one point, Amiri asked Lloyd, “Do you think that abortion is less safe than childbirth?” (It isn’t.) Lloyd said he didn’t know. Here’s the exchange that followed:

Amiri: So this particular minor … had your attention about the type of procedure that she was going to undergo because in your mind, it was a procedure that would involve the destruction of human life?

Lloyd: Well, it’s not just in my mind. That’s objective. … I think the objective facts are that it involves the destruction of a human life. How people internalize every element is a different question.

Amiri: Is your belief that abortion is the destruction of human life informed by your [religious] faith?

Lloyd: It’s informed by the reality of the situation and the scientific facts.

Amiri: You also believe that abortion is a sin?

Lloyd: What does that have to do with anything?

After Amiri reminded Lloyd that the ACLU was suing him for unconstitutionally imposing his own religious views on women in his care, Lloyd responded that yes, he does believe abortion is a sin.

Later, Amiri asked Lloyd why he wrote in a memo that women who have abortions frequently “experience it as a devastating trauma.”

“Have you done a literature review of the science literature about whether abortion causes trauma?” Amiri asked. Lloyd said he had not.

“Have you read any summaries about the scientific literature about whether abortion causes trauma?” she continued. Lloyd said he had, reading information provided by his staff as well as “stuff” he found “on the internet,” indicating “an increased likelihood of self-harm, suicide, that sort of thing.”

In fact, regret after abortion is extremely rare, as are psychological complications resulting from the procedure. (Many women are depressed, however, when they are denied access to abortion.) Here and elsewhere, Lloyd appeared to be confusing propaganda with reality.

3. Lloyd Is Not Convinced That a Rape Survivor Told the Truth About Her Assault

In one instance, Lloyd refused to let a minor known as Jane Poe obtain an abortion even though she was pregnant via rape. (Young female migrants face high rates of sexual assault.) He explained in a memo that compelling the minor to carry her pregnancy to term was in her “best interest”—even though she threatened to harm herself if she could not get an abortion. When Amiri brought up Poe, Lloyd seemed to question whether she was being honest about her assault:

Amiri: This minor had been raped; correct?

Lloyd: Well, she claimed to have been raped, yes.

Amiri then asked Lloyd whether he had “any reason to disbelieve” Poe. He admitted he did not.

4. Lloyd Believes He Knows What’s Best for Pregnant Minors

Amiri brought up the memo in which Lloyd elaborated upon his reasoning for blocking Poe’s abortion. She then asked him, “[Have you] supplanted your decision for hers based on your determination that the abortion is not in her best interest?” Lloyd said no. This strange colloquy followed:

Amiri: So please correct me and explain why.

Lloyd: Whatever she feels about what’s in her best interest is one matter, and then what we do as a program serving her is a different matter.

Amiri: How then do you reconcile your determination about what is in her best interest with what you just said in terms of the program? I don’t quite understand.

Lloyd: We are charged with acting in the best interest of the children in our care. … And that’s what we did in this case.

Amiri: So you think that denying her access to abortion was in her best interest?

Lloyd: In this case, it was.

5. Lloyd Won’t Concede That He Has Imposed a Blanket Abortion Ban

“You’re never going to approve an abortion request, right?” Amiri asked Lloyd, after he defended his decision to block Poe’s abortion. Lloyd demurred: “I’m going to look at each case and make a determination on a case-by-case basis.” She pressed him further:

Amiri: If you were to approve an abortion request, wouldn’t you be complicit in sin?

Lloyd: I could be. It depends. It’s a case-by-case determination.

Amiri: Depends on what?

Lloyd: A number of factors.

Then the two discussed a hypothetical:

Amiri: Let’s say there’s a minor who’s pregnant as a result of rape. She’s eight weeks pregnant. She’s requested an abortion. She has threatened self-harm if she’s not allowed to have the abortion. She’s voluntarily told her parents and her sponsor, all of whom are supportive of her abortion decision and would like her to have the abortion. She has obtained a judicial bypass. Would you in that case still deny the request?

Lloyd: I don’t know.

Amiri: What do you mean you don’t know? … What facts would you need that I have not laid out that would help you with your decision?

Lloyd: It would have to be a real case.

For the time being, Lloyd and the ORR are legally obligated to let all undocumented minors obtain abortions if they so choose. But the fight is far from over. The Supreme Court is currently mulling a request by the Department of Justice to sanction Amiri and the ACLU for helping one minor terminate her pregnancy. (A court had already ruled that the ORR could not prevent her from getting the abortion.) It’s clear that Lloyd will not abandon his abortion ban until the DOJ has run out of options for appeal. But thanks to Amiri and her colleagues, the agency can no longer seriously argue that Lloyd’s policy is rooted in anything other than his personal, often fictitious, beliefs.

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