The 17-year-old migrant was pregnant. She said she had been raped in her home county, and she knew from the timing that she was carrying her attacker’s child.
She wanted to terminate her pregnancy. But she was underage and undocumented, and, after she was caught crossing the border illegally, living in a government shelter.
The Trump administration official in charge of her care decided not to grant her access to an abortion — because, he said, abortion was itself a form of “violence.”
A woman’s desire to end a pregnancy springing from rape might be “understandable,” wrote Scott Lloyd, the director of the federal agency that oversees the shelter, in his denial memo on Sunday. But, he wrote, it was not possible to “cure violence with further violence.”
He went on: “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.”
It took a lawsuit, a federal court order and an unexpected reversal this week for Jane Poe, as the teenager is known in court papers, to secure access to an abortion. Yet Mr. Lloyd’s memo, released by government lawyers in court on Thursday, spells out a fervently uncompromising opposition to abortion that all but guarantees further clashes at the charged intersection of abortion and immigration.
The agency Mr. Lloyd leads, the Office of Refugee Resettlement, announced in March that it would prohibit federally funded shelters from taking “any action that facilitates” an abortion for an unaccompanied minor without his approval. The Trump administration has said that there is “no constitutional right” for young women in the office’s custody to obtain an abortion.
The director has personally gone to meet with pregnant teenagers in immigration custody to persuade them not to have abortions, drawing accusations from abortion rights advocates that he is forcing his beliefs onto the young women.
“This latest revelation exposes the Trump administration’s extreme anti-abortion ideology: It seeks to force women to continue pregnancies against their will,” said Brigitte Amiri, the American Civil Liberties Union lawyer who represented Jane Poe and two other teenagers who also won the rights to get abortions. “We will continue to fight to strike down this cruel and heartless policy.”
On Friday, a spokesman for Mr. Lloyd’s agency declined to comment on his views on abortion. In October, a spokesman told The Washington Post: “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.”
“He by law has custody of these children,” the spokesman continued, “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 Trump administration had originally opposed a federal judge’s order on Monday to allow Jane’s abortion. Then, for reasons it has not explained, it dropped its legal appeal, clearing Jane’s path. (She still faces the possibility of deportation.)
Government lawyers had pushed to keep Mr. Lloyd’s memo sealed in court, but agreed to release part of it on Thursday after the A.C.L.U. argued for its unsealing. The group has filed a class-action lawsuit challenging the agency’s policy.
Though Jane’s lawyers have disclosed almost no information about her out of concerns for her safety and privacy, Mr. Lloyd’s memo sketches the outlines of her situation. She told shelter workers that she had been raped in her home country, and though she had a boyfriend with whom she had had sex, both she and federal officials came to believe, based on the timing of her assault, that her pregnancy resulted from the rape. She arrived at the border several weeks after the attack.
When the shelter confirmed that she was pregnant, she asked for an abortion, only to change her mind after she said her mother had threatened to beat her if she got one. A few days later, however, she decided that she wanted it, and later threatened to hurt herself if she did not receive it. She was nearly 22 weeks pregnant when Mr. Lloyd said no.
Mr. Lloyd’s memo describes the abortion procedure, known as dilation and evacuation, that she would have to undergo at that stage of pregnancy as “one that even many abortionists find troublesome.” He cites anecdotal evidence, “impossible to ignore,” that abortions can be a “devastating trauma” for women, even as he concedes that “formal research on this matter appears to be sparse.” An abortion would not only fail to erase her trauma, he wrote, but also might “further traumatize her.”
Because many immigrants are sexually assaulted in their home countries or on the journey through Central America and Mexico to the southern border, cases like Jane’s are likely to recur.
A Gallup poll this year showed that 18 percent of Americans believe that abortion should be illegal under any circumstance, a share that has not changed significantly for many years. Half of Americans said abortion should be legal in certain circumstances and 29 percent said it should always be legal, according to the poll.
The House recently passed a bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks, a measure the White House supports, but it contains an exception for cases of rape. It is unlikely to pass the Senate, where most Democrats and some Republicans generally oppose new laws restricting abortions.
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