WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrats on Thursday challenged a Trump administration official over whether he is personally counseling pregnant, unaccompanied minors in federal custody not to obtain abortions.
Scott Lloyd, the head of the federal government's Office of Refugee Resettlement, declined to directly answer those questions at a House hearing. The hearing came one day after an immigrant teen in federal custody was able to obtain an abortion as a result of a court fight against the administration.
Democratic lawmakers expressed concerns that Lloyd had overstepped his expertise and authority in his dealing with female detainees. They wanted to know if he was personally intervening and speaking to pregnant females in federal custody.
"I'm out in the field in many of our locations and I meet with dozens and even perhaps hundreds of the people who we serve, the populations that we serve," Lloyd said in response to a question from Democratic Rep. Zoe Lofgren of California. "Among them, I'm certain that some of them were pregnant at the time."
Lloyd became director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement in March after working for the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic group that opposes abortion. The office oversees facilities for unaccompanied minors who enter the United States illegally. Abortion rights groups say Lloyd has been actively engaged in preventing minors in his office's custody from obtaining abortions.
Lofgren said she was disturbed that Lloyd wouldn't answer her question. The House Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security held a hearing to examine the state of the U.S. refugee admission program, which resettled about 54,000 refugees during the past fiscal year. President Donald Trump has set the refugee admissions ceiling at 45,000 this year.
Republicans focused their questioning on how the administration was improving the vetting process for refugees. Democrats honed in on the case of the 17-year-old immigrant teen in federal custody who fought the Trump administration in order to obtain an abortion. The teen, referred to in court filings as Jane Doe to shield her identity, illegally entered the U.S. in September and was taken to a facility for unaccompanied minors in South Texas. The case has become the center of a battle between supporters of abortion rights and opponents.
The teen obtained a state court order on Sept. 25 permitting an abortion. But federal officials refused to transport her or temporarily release her so that others could take her for the procedure.
In emails released by the American Civil Liberties Union, which represented the teen in court, Lloyd says his office's facilities "should not be supporting abortion services pre or post-release." Lloyd is quoted in other emails asking about the specific case of another pregnant teenager and offering to find a "few good families" to "see her through her pregnancy."
Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., asked Lloyd whether he was trained to provide medical advice or counseling. He said he relied on professionals to advise him.
Jayapal also asked Lloyd whether it was his intent to block unaccompanied minors from obtaining abortions and whether will he instruct health care provides to deny contraception or information about contraception. "How far is your jurisdiction over this issue going to extend?"
"It's always going to be a case-by-case determination," Lloyd said.
Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, called the Jane Doe case a "terrible precedent."
"What has been created by that decision of the unelected judge is an unconditional right to an abortion to a minor who can sneak into the United States," King said.