- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Health Secretary Alex M. Azar II said Tuesday that his department has a difficult balancing act when it comes to illegal immigrant girls seeking abortions, saying he has to balance their rights versus “as well as the interests of their unborn children.”

Mr. Azar, confirmed to lead the Health and Human Services Department last month, declined to say whether he was thinking of bowing to calls from pro-choice leaders to oust a senior official in charge of the HHS office who handles the Unaccompanied Alien Children, or UAC.

The new secretary said those matters were personnel-related, and he wouldn’t comment on them to reporters.

But Mr. Azar did say he’s looking to the courts to clear up what rights illegal immigrants have when it comes to abortion access in the U.S., and what the government’s responsibilities are in those cases.

“Our intention is to really try to look out for the health and well being of, in this case, the mother as well as the unborn child and then the courts are providing guidance on where we need to be and what we need to do and where our obligations are there,” he told reporters in a briefing Tuesday. “We’re trying to do it as faithfully as we can.”

Under federal law any UAC snared along the border are required to be quickly processed by Homeland Security and then turned over to the social workers in HHS’s Office of Refugee Resettlement. The ORR puts them into shelters while searching for sponsors — often family already in the U.S. illegally — who are willing to take them in.

It’s that period when the minors are in federally contracted shelters that their rights become an issue.

The American Civil Liberties Union is leading several lawsuits arguing pregnant UAC must be granted access to abortions.

HHS has balked, saying that even if the government doesn’t pay for the actual procedure, facilitating it means spending taxpayer money on staffing and care afterward. The government says that’s prohibited by federal law.

A judge in Washington, D.C., has ruled otherwise, ordering abortion access for several UAC. That ruling was first overturned by a panel of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, then reinstated by the full D.C. Circuit.

The Trump administration has asked the Supreme Court to hear the case.

But there have been other odd turns.

The government argued in a case in Texas that one prominent lawyer involved in the case representing pregnant teens had pressured one of them to get an abortion.

Meanwhile, The Washington Post reported last week that the ORR warned lawyers not to discuss abortions with their clients or else risk losing access to federal contracts. In the wake of that report, pro-choice lawmakers on Capitol Hill demanded E. Scott Lloyd, head of the ORR, be ousted.

“Mr. Lloyd, through his treatment of women under his care, has utterly failed to carry out his office’s mission and fulfill the oath he took as a government employee to uphold the U.S. Constitution. We therefore ask that you ensure Mr. Lloyd immediately steps down so someone fit to carryout ORR’s important duties can assume his role,” said the pro-choice Democratic lawmakers.

Mr. Azar, while not delving into Mr. Lloyd specifically, defended the job the ORR has done.

“The Office of Refugee Resettlement has a very difficult task with regard to these young girls that are put in our custody. These are children and we have a commission to look out for their best interests and well-being as well as the interests of their unborn children,” Mr. Azar said. “It’s a very difficult task, I do not envy the people who work in the program and in that office, and they try to do right by all interests involved.”

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