A legal battle over an immigrant teen’s request for an abortion while in federal custody sparked protests. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)

Long before he became the head of a federal office for resettling refugees, E. Scott Lloyd built a career as a champion of religious values, holding strong antiabortion views that have now thrust him into the center of a national controversy.

His past work has also made him a target of critics who argue he is ill-prepared for his current role as director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, a position he assumed in March within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Recently, the Trump appointee played a prominent role in impeding a detained undocumented teenager from obtaining an abortion, prompting a lawsuit in federal court.

Last week, HHS — which is responsible for caring for detained unaccompanied minors — said “there is no constitutional right” for an immigrant minor to have an elective abortion while in federal custody.


E. Scott Lloyd. (Health & Human Services)

Lloyd has personally intervened to try to persuade unaccompanied minor girls not to have abortions, according to an HHS official.

“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,” the spokesman said. “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 official declined to say whether those girls had been blocked from getting the procedure, as in the case of the 17-year-old detained in Texas and identified in court papers as “Jane Doe.”

Early Wednesday, the teenager identified as “Jane Doe” terminated her pregnancy after an appeals court ruling in her favor.

Lloyd is scheduled to testify Thursday before the House Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on immigration and border security on unrelated immigration issues. He could also draw questions related to the abortion case.

The New York Times editorial board has called Lloyd an antiabortion “crusader.” The liberal Washington Post opinion columnist Ruth Marcus labeled him an “antiabortion zealot.”

But Janet Morana, author of “Recall Abortion: Ending the Abortion Industry’s Exploitation of Women,” dismissed the criticism of Lloyd, writing on Twitter that “those who value human life will see a stand-up guy.”

Lloyd’s advocacy of conservative causes stretches back to his days at Columbus School of Law at the Catholic University of America.

As a law student, he worked closely with the parents of Terri Schiavo, who fought to keep their daughter alive through feeding tubes in one of the country’s highest-profile right-to-die cases, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Lloyd later worked in private practice at LegalWorks Apostolate, which provides legal representation and counsel “while remaining faithful to Church teaching.”

During this time, he wrote an essay for Ethika Politika, an online journal affiliated with the Center for Morality in Public Life, arguing that “contraceptives are the cause of abortion” while attacking Planned Parenthood and “other population control entities” for spreading misinformation.

In another piece on the same website, Lloyd wrote that “tax dollars are being used to help trick people into aborting their own children, when they would not do so if someone was not lying to them.”

He called on state legislators to “provide clarification where propagandists have intentionally fouled things.”

Subsequently, he joined the George W. Bush administration as an attorney for HHS. In that role, Lloyd co-authored a “conscience” rule that gave medical providers the right to refuse contraceptives, abortions or other care on moral grounds.

The Obama administration later rescinded most of that federal regulation.

Lloyd, who is from Stone Harbor, N.J., attended James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va., for his undergraduate degree. He now lives in Virginia with his wife, Ann, and their six children.

In a 2009 opinion article for the National Catholic Register, Lloyd argued that an increase in the Title X family planning fund — which provides free or reduced-price services to low-income women — would help pay for “truckloads of condoms” that, while distributed free, would actually fail and cause more unplanned pregnancies and abortions.

“I suggest that the American people make a deal with women: So long as you are using the condom, pill or patch I am providing with my money, you are going to promise not to have an abortion if the contraception fails, which it often does,” Lloyd wrote.

Women, he added, should “sign a pledge” that if they have an abortion, they would become ineligible for taxpayer-funded contraception.

Before his appointment as the director of the refugee agency, Lloyd served as an attorney in the public policy office of the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal and service organization. Officials at the group did not immediately respond to a request for comment about Lloyd.

His government profile says that while at the Knights of Columbus, he led the organization’s policy advocacy on behalf of ethnic and religious minorities victimized by ISIS.

But critics have argued that experience alone was not enough to merit his appointment by Trump to shepherd the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR).

Melanie Nezer, vice president of policy and advocacy at a Jewish organization that contracts with HHS to resettle refugees in the United States, told the Daily Beast in April that Lloyd “doesn’t appear to have much experience with resettlement, which is somewhat concerning given that this is a program that’s been in operation since 1980 and has been very effective in receiving, resettling, and integrating refugees across the country.”

There are about 5,000 unaccompanied minors in the office’s custody.

Court filings in the “Jane Doe” case showed that, as director of ORR, Lloyd flew to Texas to try to talk a young woman out of having an abortion.

“As I’ve said, often these girls start to regret abortion, and if this comes up, we need to connect her with resources for psychological and/or religious counseling,” Lloyd wrote in an email included in the filings by the American Civil Liberties Union.

In another email, he wrote that ORR’s shelters could only provide “pregnancy services and life-affirming options counseling” and “should not be supporting abortion services pre- or post-release.”

The ORR did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The abortion ended the girl’s individual court challenge in a case that drew widespread attention and evoked the incendiary issues of abortion rights and illegal immigration.

But the broader legal battle over whether the federal government may continue to dissuade, and even block, undocumented teens in its custody from having abortions is still pending in U.S. District Court in Washington.

Georgeanne Usova, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, which represented the teen, said Lloyd’s previous writings raise concerns for young women in need of emergency contraception, including those under the care of ORR. Usova noted that scores of young women are sexually assaulted in their home countries or on their journeys to the United States.

“Jane Doe’s case is not isolated,” Usova said. “When you look at [Lloyd’s] long antiabortion history, that’s not a surprise.”

In a statement prepared for Thursday’s House hearing, Lloyd writes: “Since my time at ORR, I have had the opportunity to visit numerous resettlement sites in communities throughout the U.S. I have been amazed at the level of dedicated resettlement staff, innovative programs, and the support at the local level on behalf of refugees.

“I have seen firsthand the impact that ORR services can have on the lives of those we bring to this country — restoring hope for a new beginning.”

He then writes that “one such story” — of a woman he met during his ORR directorship — “has stayed with me.”

It was, he says, a story “of an elderly woman from Afghanistan I met who had the opportunity to start a child care business through the ORR Microenterprise Development — Home-Based Childcare Program. Opening her own business was never in the realm of possibility in her home country. When asked how this program had helped her, she replied, ‘This program gave me wings to fly.’”

Maria Sacchetti and Ann E. Marimow contributed to this report.

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