California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, right, and San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera have sued to block a new federal rule allowing healthcare providers and institutions to claim religious exemptions from providing some medical services. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

State, SF team up to block rule allowing healthcare providers to claim religious exemptions

Federal regulation would take away funding for states that don’t comply

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera both asked a federal court Tuesday to block a new rule by the administration of President Donald Trump that would allow health care institutions and workers to refuse services on religious grounds.

The rule announced by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services last month is due to go into effect on July 22. It would deny federal health, welfare and education funds to states and local governments that don’t comply.

Becerra and Herrera filed lawsuits in federal court in San Francisco in May to challenge the rule and on Tuesday followed up with motions for preliminary injunctions blocking its enforcement.

They claim the rule is illegal because it is broader than religious exemptions previously authorized than Congress, and also is unconstitutional because it violates the ban on establishment of religion.

The two lawsuits allege the rule would enable not only doctors but also nurses, receptionists, call operators and ambulance drivers to refuse to help patients in need. They say it could result in denial of treatment to women seeking contraception and abortions and to LGBTQ individuals.

Herrera said San Francisco would stand to lose nearly $1 billion in federal funding if it does not comply with the rule. Becerra said California could lose a total of more than $70 billion.

The state’s lawsuit has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Haywood Gilliam of Oakland and the city’s lawsuit is before U.S. Magistrate Joseph Spero in San Francisco. But Becerra has filed a motion asking that both lawsuits and a third case filed by Santa Clara County be heard by the same judge.

Roger Severino, director of the Health and Human Services Department’s Office for Civil Rights, said last month, “We will defend the rule vigorously.”

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