During the Trump administration’s first year, as it ramped up some of the most severe anti-immigration policies in modern U.S. history, political appointees within the Department of Health and Human Services also sought to advance the administration’s anti-abortion rights agenda — including by attempting to obstruct migrant teenagers from terminating pregnancies.
Records uncovered by American Oversight, Equity Forward, and Campaign for Accountability through Freedom of Information Act litigation provide new details about how senior Trump administration officials sought to limit the reproductive health care options of minors in immigration detention while administration policies, including family separation, set the stage for an unprecedented number of youths to be held in custody.
The documents consist of thousands of pages of emails sent or received by officials within the Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families (ACF) in 2017. They follow political appointees’ efforts to track the pregnancies of girls in ACF custody and deter them from obtaining desired abortions, including the case of a minor dubbed “Jane Doe” who had an abortion after a highly publicized legal fight in the fall of 2017. They also show officials entertaining an apparent stranger’s offer to adopt the child should Doe carry her pregnancy to term, and detail how Scott Lloyd, an anti-abortion advocate who was then the director of ACF’s Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), personally intervened in a similar, previously unreported case.
Lloyd’s role during this time had already drawn significant scrutiny. The anti-abortion rights advocate’s intrusive approach to managing the reproductive health of those in his office’s care included tracking pregnancies via spreadsheets, opposing efforts by a rape victim and other young people (including Jane Doe) to terminate pregnancies, and exploring medically unproven methods to reverse an in-process medication abortion.
The agency’s handling of 17-year-old Jane Doe’s request for an abortion in the fall of 2017 while she was detained in Texas was the subject of the case Garza v. Hargan. The ACLU sought relief for Doe and three additional plaintiffs who had sought abortions while in ORR custody, a victory the ACLU won in 2020 when the administration agreed to a new policy prohibiting ORR or facility staff from interfering with detainees’ abortion access.
American Oversight represented Equity Forward and Campaign for Accountability in FOIA litigation to compel the release of records that shed light on the actions of HHS officials at that time. Previous records obtained through this litigation are posted here.
In its effort to avoid releasing the records, the Trump administration argued that it would take 28 years to fully process the underlying FOIA request, which would have delayed production of the records until well after they could be used to provide meaningful accountability for the government’s actions, but American Oversight successfully fought to receive rolling productions. Together with news reports, court filings, and government watchdog reports, these latest documents provide key insights into the human rights concerns raised by the Trump administration’s actions, and add to the historical record during the continued debate over the conditions of unaccompanied migrant children in the government’s care.
Multiple emails in the documents concern the situation of one pregnant minor in immigration detention who sought an abortion during the same time period as the Jane Doe case. While the anonymity of the plaintiffs in the ACLU case coupled with the redactions in the records make it difficult to ascertain from the documents alone, it appears that this case — in which Lloyd also became personally involved, and which took place the same week Jane Doe was allowed to proceed with an abortion — has not been previously reported.
On Oct. 23, 2017, Jessica Martinez, the program director at the International Educational Services Inc. shelter in Los Fresnos, Tex., emailed Jonathan White, then ORR’s deputy director of children’s programs, and others to inform them that a newly detained minor was pregnant and had requested to “take a pill to get rid of [the] baby.”
According to the email, the 17-year-old, who had traveled to the U.S. from Guatemala, had given a number of reasons for wanting an abortion, including her age, her lack of resources, and fear of angering her family. She had not yet attended a presentation about her rights or received an initial legal screening, both of which were scheduled for the following day, and did not wish to disclose the pregnancy to her family or a sponsor.
Later that day, Lloyd emailed Martinez, directing her to get the pregnancy confirmed by a doctor, to notify the minor’s parents about the pregnancy, and to report back to him. “Either UAC or the program should notify parents, according to UAC’s preference,” Lloyd wrote. (“UAC” stands for “unaccompanied alien child.”)
Days later, Lloyd emailed to follow up, advising Martinez to attempt to persuade the minor to tell her parents about the pregnancy. “Please approach UAC and ask for her consent to inform her parents of the pregnancy today, and give her the option to do so herself if she would like,” Lloyd wrote. “Let her know that the program would like to inform them because these discussions between parents and children are often fruitful and lead to greater understanding.” If the teenager gave permission, Lloyd told Martinez to inform the parents that day. If not, he asked her to have the girl “articulate reasons” for not wishing to disclose the pregnancy and to share them with him.
Martinez emailed Lloyd and White that evening to update them that despite initial opposition and an apparent language barrier (according to Martinez, Spanish was not the minor’s primary language), the teenager had been persuaded to share the information with her mother but remained steadfast in wanting to terminate the pregnancy. According to notes from a case manager, which Martinez included in the email, the call with the mother happened that day. It’s unclear from the documents how her case proceeded.
The records, as well as previous media reports, reveal that senior HHS officials displayed a high level of interest in the reproductive health decisions of individual minors in immigration detention early on in the presidency of Donald Trump.
On March 2, 2017, an email notification of a “Report of Significant Incident” — about a minor, detained at contractor Southwest Key’s Casa Kokopelli facility in Arizona, who that morning had begun a pregnancy termination procedure — appears to have set off a flurry of responses from HHS staff. One sent by White is marked “Urgent.” The content of the message is redacted.
In the days that followed, according to news reports based on records revealed in the Jane Doe litigation, staff were considering medically unproven methods to disrupt an in-progress medication abortion in the case of another girl, who was ultimately able to terminate her pregnancy. Records published by Reveal show that on March 4, then-acting ORR Director Kenneth Tota sent a letter referencing attempts to reverse that abortion and requiring shelters to get ORR approval before a minor undergoes abortion procedures.
The new documents, as well as prior reporting from Equity Forward and others, illustrate how this policy evolved into a tracking system. “The Rachel Maddow Show” in March 2019 reported that Lloyd received detailed spreadsheets about pregnant detainees.
Soon after, Equity Forward posted records that show that in early March 2017 — weeks before he officially took charge at ORR — Lloyd requested an estimate of the number of pregnant minors in immigration custody, receiving an accounting from White on March 9. Those emails show that Lloyd continued to get updates, first on a case-by-case basis and then in a weekly report. American Oversight published spreadsheets and emails in August 2019 that contain additional details about Lloyd’s tracking efforts.
The latest documents show that also on March 9, James De La Cruz, an ACF senior federal field specialist supervisor, had sent an email to colleagues, including White, with the subject line “Guidance to Care Providers About how to Proceed with Cases of Expecting [Unaccompanied Children].” The content of the guidance was redacted, but an email sent the next day obtained by Reveal appears to show the content mirroring the guidance of the March 4 letter — requiring ORR leadership be notified about abortion requests, and blocking procedures that didn’t have that approval.
The next day, White emailed other agency staffers requesting help for “[t]argeted outreach to programs currently sheltering pregnant girls.” White included a list of facilities “currently sheltering at least 1 pregnant girl.”
Reveal previously reported that in March 2017, Lloyd had ordered that minors only be given access to “pregnancy services and life-affirming options counseling,” not information about abortion rights. In another case, he went so far as to personally recommend an anti-abortion crisis pregnancy center for one minor in Arizona. Later that year, according to the records obtained by American Oversight, White emailed staff asking, “For the UAC Program: Family planning: What is included in that?” The subject line of the email references the inquiry as a “question for Scott.”
In another investigation, American Oversight previously obtained and published evidence of anti-abortion messaging directed toward youths in immigration detention. In 2019, through FOIA requests, we obtained photos from HHS inspections of more than two dozen facilities housing unaccompanied migrant children. On a resource list photographed in a center in Renton, Wash., is contact information for an anti-abortion crisis pregnancy center.
Lloyd’s close tracking of detained teenagers’ medical details continued into the case of Jane Doe. Records pertaining to the case also reveal that an HHS official appeared to entertain an inquiry from an unknown outside party about adopting the baby should Jane Doe give birth.
On Oct. 12, 2017, the week that the ACLU began advocating for Doe and the day before it filed an emergency lawsuit in federal court on her behalf, a public affairs official began an email chain with the subject line “AP Follow-up— UAC litigation.” The emails, while almost entirely redacted, include a response from White. (“AP” likely refers to an inquiry from the Associated Press, which reported extensively on the Doe case.)
Later that month, as the legal fight proceeded, a redacted external sender using a Gmail address emailed Curi Kim, the director of ACF’s Division of Refugee Health. The sender described themselves as a married couple offering to adopt Jane Doe’s baby “if she is willing to carry the baby to full term.” Kim responded that day, saying that she forwarded the email to the “Directors of the Unaccompanied Alien Children program.”
On Oct. 24, the full D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in Doe’s favor, overruling a prior delay and clearing the way for her procedure. The records include an email to Martinez, the IES Shelter Los Fresnos program director, from Doe’s lawyer, Rochelle Garza, on that date, in which Garza referenced the court order and requested that her client be immediately transported for the procedure. Martinez responded to confirm she had received the order and was “only pending formal instructions from ORR HQ.” Martinez also sent an email to White about logistics for related medical appointments; White responded by asking to be told when Doe returned to the facility.
Martinez emailed White and Lloyd early on Oct. 25 informing them of the medical details of Jane Doe’s procedure. Later that day she emailed White, Lloyd, and others updating them that they delivered Jane Doe to the “designated location.” Doe then obtained her abortion, after more than a month of delay.
“When I was detained, I was placed in a shelter for children. It was there that I was told I was pregnant,” Jane Doe said in a statement through the ACLU. “I knew immediately what was best for me then, as I do now — that I’m not ready to be a parent. … Through all of this, I have never changed my mind.”
Lloyd was transferred from ORR to another part of HHS as the Jane Doe case proceeded, before leaving the federal government in the summer of 2019. But years later, new details about the extent to which Trump administration officials sought to interfere with the personal decisions and reproductive rights of migrant teens continue to emerge. American Oversight will continue to hold those officials accountable for their actions.
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