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

The Trump administration official responsible for overseeing undocumented minors in U.S. custody refused to allow a 17-year-old to terminate her pregnancy this month because his government office could not "participate in violence against an innocent life," he said.

The determination by the official that an abortion would not be in the "best interest" of the teenager was central to a legal battle in federal court in Washington this week. E. Scott Lloyd, director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement within the Department of Health and Human Services, has become the face of the administration's new policy of discouraging and even blocking access to abortion services for unaccompanied minors.

"Refuge is the basis of our name and is at the core of what we provide, and we provide this to all the minors in our care, including their unborn children, every day," he wrote in a Dec. 17 memo unsealed in court on Thursday in which Lloyd explains why he opposed an abortion for the teenager, who was about 22 weeks pregnant.

"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."

Attorneys for the teenager challenging the administration's policy as an unconstitutional ban on abortion say Lloyd is inappropriately using his government office to impose an antiabortion ideology on pregnant teens who cross the border illegally.

The teen's individual case ended when the Justice Department dropped its appeals on Tuesday, allowing her to obtain an abortion.

The memo provides more details about the circumstances surrounding the pregnancy of the 17-year-old known only in court papers as Jane Poe. She told officials that she had been raped before crossing the border, and she threatened to hurt herself if she could not end the pregnancy. The teen briefly rescinded her request for an abortion after she said her mother and the person lined up to serve as her U.S. sponsor threatened to beat her if she had an abortion, according to the memo.

Lloyd rejected the teen's request over the recommendation of "at least one senior program staff person" that the office assist her in obtaining the abortion, the memo shows.

"Nobody should be blocked from obtaining an abortion, but with these facts in particular, it just shows how outrageous and extreme the policy is," said the teen's attorney Brigitte Amiri of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Lloyd's decision appears to be at odds with how Justice Department attorneys described government policy during oral arguments at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in October. One Justice Department attorney told Judge Patricia A. Millett that in cases of rape and sexual assault, unaccompanied minors could obtain abortion services.

Certain regulations, however, apply only when a minor has been raped while in U.S. custody.

Before taking on the role of director in March, Lloyd worked as an attorney in the public policy office of the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal and service organization. He worked at HHS during the administration of President George W. Bush.

In his memo, Lloyd acknowledged the troubling circumstances surrounding the teen's pregnancy, but he writes that at nearly 22 weeks, "the child has at least a fighting chance at survival if born."

The state in which the teen is being held does not have a ban on abortion at a particular stage in pregnancy, according to her lawyers.

Rachel Siegel contributed to this report.