Memo Shows Official Sought to Block Teen’s Abortion After Rape

FILE – In this Oct. 20, 2017, photo, activists with Planned Parenthood demonstrate in support of a pregnant 17-year-old being held in a Texas facility for unaccompanied immigrant children to obtain an abortion, outside of the Department of Health and Human Services in Washington. In a document filed Thursday, Dec. 21, Scott Lloyd, the government official in charge of the agency that shelters unaccompanied immigrant children, compares abortion to rape. Lloyd heads the Office of Refugee Resettlement at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which faces an ongoing lawsuit over its refusal to allow teens in its care to have abortions. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite File)

WASHINGTON (CN) – A Trump administration official tried to block a detained immigrant teenager from getting an abortion even though he knew she got pregnant after being raped, a government document filed in federal court Thursday shows.

The girl, identified as Jane Poe in court filings, enlisted the help of the American Civil Liberties Union after being unable to obtain an abortion. The government finally relented earlier this week after U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan granted a temporary restraining order to Poe.

A document filed in the case on Dec. 21 shows that a high-level Department of Health and Human Services official determined that even though Poe had been raped, the agency would not facilitate an abortion.

“Implicit here are the dubious notions that it is possible to cure violence with further violence, and that the destruction of an unborn child’s life can in some instances be acceptable as a means to an end,” the memo says. “To decline to assist in an abortion here is to decline to participate in violence against an innocent life. She remains pregnant, but this is not the intent of our actions. Moral and criminal responsibility for the pregnancy lies with the attacker, and no one else.”

The memo, dated Dec. 6, was written by Scott Lloyd, the director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which bears responsibility for unaccompanied minors in federal custody.

The Administration for Children and Families, which houses the Office of Refugee Resettlement, declined to comment on the memo.

Poe had been detained while trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border. The memo says she was raped several weeks prior to that.

Lloyd’s memo rejects the argument that abortion is justified in cases of rape.

“Others might suggest that abortion is justified as a form of self-defense in this instance, but this gets it wrong again. The child — the one who is destroyed — is not an aggressor. The aggressor, again, was the rapist,” the memo states.

Lloyd goes on to conclude: “In this request, we are being asked to participate in killing a human being in our care. I cannot direct the program to proceed in this manner. We cannot be a place of refuge while we are at the same time a place of violence. We have to choose, and we ought to choose protect life rather than to destroy it.”

During oral arguments Monday, key questions about the teen’s background remained unanswered. August Flentje, special counsel with the Office of Immigration Litigation, said that Poe had wavered about having an abortion, and that the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which bears responsibility for unaccompanied minors, had decided it wasn’t in her best interest to have an abortion.

Flentje, however, couldn’t say then upon what basis that determination was made.

The determination document was filed along with the memo Thursday, but is entirely redacted. The memo, however, sheds light on the circumstances surrounding Poe’s pregnancy, and shows that she only wavered about having an abortion after saying that a family member and potential sponsor had threatened her with violence.

“She originally requested an abortion upon confirmation that she was pregnant, but rescinded the request after she reported that her mother, and the [redacted] who was to serve as her sponsor, threatened to ‘beat’ her if she did so,” the memo says.

Poe renewed her request for an abortion several days later, the memo says, and threatened to harm herself if she could not get one, though staff reportedly took steps to mitigate that risk.

Brigitte Amiri, a staff attorney with the ACLU working on the case, called the revelations contained in the document unreal.

“This story continues to get more unreal,” she said in a statement. “This latest revelation exposes the Trump administration’s extreme anti-abortion ideology: it seeks to force women to continue pregnancies against their will. While the path has been cleared for three Janes to get their abortions after protracted legal battles, the Office of Refugee Resettlement’s no-abortion policy still stands, and ORR’s director, Scott Lloyd, is still enforcing it,” she added, abbreviating the Office of Refugee Resettlement.

The government quietly dropped an appeal Wednesday stemming from the temporary restraining order Chutkan granted Monday concerning another unaccompanied minor, Jane Roe, who was roughly 10 weeks pregnant and also sought an abortion. The government appealed to the D.C. Circuit for two additional weeks to secure a sponsor to release her to.

The ACLU’s most recent challenge to the Department of Health and Human Services policy erupted two months after it succeeded in securing an abortion for another young immigrant, Jane Doe.

Because Doe, Roe and Poe were all unaccompanied by adults, the government turned them over to facilities run by private contractors for the Department of Health and Human Services.

Some of these facilities are affiliated with religious groups that oppose abortion, but in these cases it was the government – not the shelters – that tried to block the teens from obtaining abortions.

In her statement, Amiri said the ACLU is proceeding with its effort to block the policy.

“We will continue to fight to strike down this cruel and heartless policy,” she said.

On Friday the congressional Pro-Choice Caucus slammed the Office of Refugee Resettlement in a letter sent to the House Judiciary Committee for trying to stop Poe from having an abortion.

“This is an egregious, unconscionable violation of Jane Poe’s right to make this decision,” the letter states. “We fear that other women currently in detention may be facing similar injustices at the hands of Trump administration officials.”

The caucus asked the committee to question Lloyd immediately when Congress returns after the holiday break.

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