A group of 16 Senate Democrats, led by Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), wrote a letter Friday to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) acting secretary Eric Hargan, rebuking the Office of Refugee Resettlement’s (ORR) current practice of denying illegal unaccompanied minors in their care access to abortion, in light of the recent case before the D.C. Appeals Court.
The ACLU and abortion advocacy groups seized on the case of 17-year-old Jane Doe last month to argue that illegal immigrants have a "constitutional right" to abortion access. Officials with the Department of Health and Human Services declined to facilitate the teen's abortion and, following the initial ACLU lawsuit, the Department of Justice argued that it sets "a dangerous precedent by opening our borders to any illegal children seeking taxpayer-supported, elective abortions.”
The senators wrote Friday that they were “disturbed by the continued reports of intervention in the medical care of minors in ORR custody by ORR Director Scott Lloyd and other Trump Administration officials.”
“When there’s a child in the program who is pregnant, he has been reaching out to her and trying to help as much as possible with life-affirming options," ORR wrote in a statement defending Lloyd's actions in the case of Jane Doe. "He by law has custody of these children, and just like a foster parent, he knows that that’s a lot of responsibility and he is going to make choices that he thinks are best for both the mother and the child."
The senators called that characterization an "abuse" of Lloyd's role, arguing that “the law in no way suggests that minors in the UAC Program are in the custody of the ORR Director or should be denied access to an attorney representing the child.”
“ORR is failing at this mission by denying access to legal health care, undermining privacy, denying access to attorneys, and potentially identifying sponsors in violation of the law,” the senators concluded.
They are requesting an immediate briefing and information about ORR’s current policies regarding the provision of medical services, including abortion access, to minors in ORR custody, and any changes since January 20, 2017.
“While the Court ensured Jane was able to make her own health care decisions, the circumstances surrounding her care are unfortunately not unique,” the senators emphasized. “We continue to be concerned that ORR’s implementation of policies and procedures regarding care for minors in the federal government’s custody is inconsistent with federal law and best practices to provide for the care of minors.”