Originally published by Mother Jones
Every Sunday, Scott Lloyd attends St. John the Baptist Roman Catholic Church in Front Royal, Virginia. Founded in honor of a fallen Confederate soldier, the red-brick building sits on Main Street in this picturesque town of 15,000 at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains and is the heart of its vibrant and devout Catholic community. Twice a week, the parish hosts a Tridentine Mass in Latin, a relic of Catholicism’s pre-1965 Vatican II order that is now eschewed by most contemporary churches. Lloyd, 39, lives on the outskirts of town in a two-story colonial with his wife, Ann—his college sweetheart—and their seven kids. That puts them in line with St. John’s congregation, whose 1,200 families, a congregant once wrote, have an average of six children each and have gone 15 years without a teen pregnancy.
For more than a year and a half, Lloyd has been commuting 70 miles to Washington, DC, where he serves in the Trump administration’s Department of Health and Human Services. For the last 20 months, Lloyd has been charged with running the department’s Office of Refugee Resettlement, a small agency charged with helping refugees arriving in America. It also runs shelters housing detained child migrants, including some 3,000 children seized from their parents at the border in the spring of 2018. Last month, it was revealed that Lloyd’s bungled handling of the reunification of these kids with their families was under formal HHS review; as of this writing, 171 children are still separated from their families. Today, the department announced that Lloyd will be leaving the refugee office for a new role involving outreach to religious communities with HHS’s Center for Faith and Opportunity Initiatives.
Lloyd’s tenure at ORR was controversial. When he was appointed to run the agency, Lloyd had little prior experience with refugees but a long history of working to restrict reproductive rights. Under both the Bush and Obama administrations, the agency routinely permitted undocumented teens to get abortions if they obtained private funding. But after March 2017, when President Donald Trump put Lloyd in charge of the agency, he instructed ORR shelters to send pregnant young women to have consultations at religiously affiliated crisis pregnancy centers that oppose abortion and to undergo medically unnecessary ultrasounds. Once, Lloyd ordered a shelter to halt a young woman’s two-step medication abortion halfway through while he conferred with colleagues about deploying a scientifically unproven method to “reverse” the abortion to “save the life of the baby.” (After Lloyd had the girl taken to an emergency room to check on the “health status” of the fetus, she was eventually allowed to complete the procedure.) In another case, he ordered that a pregnant girl who was otherwise ready for release should be held in custody until she received anti-abortion counseling. In yet another, he denied an abortion to a pregnant rape survivor who had threatened to hurt herself if forced to carry to term, until a federal judge intervened. He went so far as to personally travel to visit one young woman in ORR custody to try to dissuade her from having an abortion—he delivered a similar message to another young woman by phone. In a 2017 deposition, Lloyd acknowledged he had never approved an abortion request that crossed his desk. This fall, Politico revealed that Lloyd is writing an anti-abortion book while in office based on his own spiritual “awakening.”
To understand Lloyd’s actions, it helps to consider his personal experience. In 2004 he wrote a law school essay describing his guilt and outrage after a young woman he slept with got pregnant and chose to have an abortion. “The truth about abortion is that my first child is dead, and no woman, man, Supreme Court, or government—nobody—has the right to tell me that she doesn’t belong here,” Lloyd wrote in the seven-page essay, which I first revealed in an August Mother Jones story.
It also helps to look at the Catholic community of Front Royal, where he has chosen to raise his family. Since 1979, when Christendom College (mascot: Crusaders) set up shop there, the town has attracted an array of conservative institutions linked to the church. There’s Seton Home Study School, a leading provider of Catholic home-schooling curricula. And Human Life International (HLI), which boasts of being the world’s largest international pro-life advocacy group, one of a variety of organizations that advocate preservation of the “natural family.”
“You know how people play the Kevin Bacon game?” explains Stuart Nolan, a former law partner of Lloyd’s who is chairman of the HLI board and a parishioner at St. John the Baptist. “If you went through six degrees of separation, you’d probably find that a lot of the folks have some connection historically to one of those three organizations—a lot of the Catholics you run into in town used to work for Human Life International or Seton, or they still do, or they went to Christendom, or they were just visiting because their oldest child went to Christendom and they fell in love with the community and then relocated here. It continues to happen, and the community continues to grow.”