While most Americans are concerned with either helping or hindering unaccompanied minors from crossing the southern border into the United States, the Southern Baptist Convention has a different concern: Preventing pregnant migrant children from accessing health care and abortion services.
The SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission sent a letter Dec. 4 to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services objecting to proposed new rules that would allow underage migrant girls who have been impregnated — most likely without their consent — from accessing abortion services.
“The use of federal funding to facilitate abortion-related travel and ensure access to abortion for unaccompanied children is in contradiction to existing appropriations provisions, undermines the intent of Congress when passing spending bills, and violates the consciences of ORR staffers and American taxpayers,” the ERLC letter states.
In March 2017, the Trump administration issued a directive prohibiting immigration shelter officials from facilitating a child’s abortion without an approval from the director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement. The Trump-era rule said shelter officials may only offer pregnant girls “pregnancy services and life-affirming options counseling.”
What is well documented is the abuse — including sexual violence — many migrants face on their journeys to the U.S.
There is no data available on how many unaccompanied children who cross into the United States are pregnant upon arrival. What is well documented is the abuse — including sexual violence — many migrants face on their journeys to the U.S. By various accounts, anywhere from 30% to 80% of female migrants are sexually abused on the journey to the border.
CBS News reported that Scott Lloyd, who led the federal refugee agency from March 2017 to November 2018, denied several abortion requests from migrant girls in U.S. custody, citing the Trump policy.
One such denied request was from a 17-year-old migrant girl who had been raped in her home country. In his denial, Lloyd concluded an abortion was not in her “best interest,” saying it would “not undo or erase the memory of the violence committed against her.”
CBS News quoted Lloyd’s writing from a December 2017 memo: “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 to protect life rather than to destroy it.”
The Trump policy was defeated in a federal court challenge, causing HHS in September 2020 to issue guidance that barred officials from interfering with migrant children’s abortion requests.
The Biden administration seeks to codify that outcome. The proposed rule says the Office of Refugee Resettlement “must not prevent unaccompanied children in ORR care from accessing health care services, which may include medical services requiring heightened ORR involvement or family planning services, and must make reasonable efforts to facilitate access to those services if requested by the unaccompanied child. This includes providing transport across state lines and associated ancillary services if necessary to access appropriate medical services, including access to medical specialists and medical services requiring heightened ORR involvement.”
The policy explicitly says access to abortion care must be allowed “in a manner consistent with limitations on the use of federal funds for abortions” as stated in the Hyde Amendment, a legislative provision barring the use of federal funds to pay for abortion, except to save the life of the mother or if the pregnancy arises from incest or rape.
Even if abortion services are provided at no cost to taxpayers, the federal government should not be allowed to transport the pregnant migrant girls to those services, the ERLC letter claims, saying there should be no distinction between funding abortions and funding travel to access abortions.
“As the ERLC has advocated time and again, abortion-related travel is inherently included as a prohibited measure under the Hyde Amendment since doing so subsidizes the abortion industry with federal funding,” the letter states. “There is no meaningful argument the ORR can make to separate abortion from abortion-related travel, and this type of argument has not proven successful in circumventing other federal appropriations restrictions.”
Further, the ERLC letter chides HHS for taking into account “the interests of the unaccompanied child” but not taking into account “the burden this places on ORR staff members and foster care providers to determine what constitutes a legal action and what does not. The consciences of these staff members and foster care providers should not be needlessly implicated by requiring active participation in pro-abortion policies.”
The ERLC letter also says pregnant unaccompanied children should not be able to access abortion services because there is no legal guardian present to give approval, as required in many states.
Thus, the federal rule “completely disregards the ‘safety and well-being’ of the preborn child and fails to give the child the same care and regard ORR clearly holds for the value of a child’s life outside the womb. ORR must be consistent and extend the same compassionate care for the preborn child in their custody.”
The ERLC letter further complains the Biden administration would offer “harmful ‘gender transitions’ for unaccompanied children, further exploiting vulnerable children and violating fundamental parental rights.”
There is no available data on migrant children seeking gender transition care upon arrival at the U.S. border. Such requests are rare even among the population of children who are native-born U.S. citizens — and almost no doctor will perform gender-affirming surgery on a minor — but disdain for the transgender community has become a partisan talking point in recent years. The ERLC is on record denying “gender transition” is a real thing.
The proposed HHS rules do not mention “gender transition” at any point.
The ERLC letter acknowledges this language does not appear in the document but concludes allowing gender transition care must be the hidden intent of the new policy.
“Given the inclusion of authority for ORR to transport such minors ‘across state lines’ and for such treatment to be ‘requested’ by the unaccompanied child, it is clear the intent of this regulation is to circumvent state law to facilitate lasting and harmful ‘gender transition’ medical and surgical interventions for already-vulnerable children,” the ERLC declares.