SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera on Thursday filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration over a new federal rule that would allow health care staff to refuse to provide medical treatment.
The new so-called “conscience” rule would reduce access to health care for a number of vulnerable populations, including women, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, according to the suit.
The lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, states that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services exceeded its statutory authority by creating the new rule and violated the Administrative Procedure Act, the spending clause, separation of powers principles and other provisions of the U.S. Constitution.
“At its core, this rule is about denying people medical care,” Herrera said. “This administration is willing to sacrifice patients’ health and lives — particularly those of women, members of the LGBTQ community, and low-income families — to score right-wing political points.”
According to a press release issued by the SF City Attorney’s office, the new rule requires that cities — in all circumstances — prioritize a staff person’s religious beliefs over the health and lives of patients. The breadth of the rule is broad enough that it applies not just to doctors and nurses, but anyone even tangentially related to health care, including receptionists and schedulers.
Under the rule, someone could feasibly refuse to schedule appointments for LGBTQ patients or a woman wanting information about an abortion simply because of their religious faith.
According to the City Attorney’s office, if San Francisco refuses to comply with the new rule, city officials risk losing nearly $1 billion in federal money that funds everything from Medicaid and Medicare to HIV treatment to assistance for low-income families.
“Threatening the health of women, seniors, and the sick doesn’t demonstrate strength or conviction. It’s simply craven,” said Herrera. “Rather than protecting civil rights, this new rule makes a mockery of them. Once again, the Trump administration is trying to bully local governments by threatening to withhold federal funds. That’s not how American democracy works. The president does not have that authority under the Constitution. I would have hoped the Trump administration, after all of their losses in court, would have learned that lesson by now.”
Herrera’s lawsuit seeks to have the rule declared unconstitutional and also seeks a court order to prevent it from taking effect.
The suit names U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex. Azar II and the department’s Office for Civil Rights Director Roger Severino as defendants.