City Attorney Dennis Herrera has sued the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Herrera sues over rule allowing health workers to refuse care for patients

Lawsuit alleges Trump administration policy prioritizes ‘religious beliefs over patient care”

San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera announced Thursday he’s filing suit against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services over a new federal rule that would allow health workers to refuse care for patients based on their own religious beliefs.

The rule, being pushed by the administration of President Donald Trump, could put vulnerable populations at risk of facing discrimination, Herrera said.

“At its core, this rule is about denying people medical care,” he said in a statement.

“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. It’s reprehensible,” Herrera said.

“People’s health should not be a political football. The intent of this new rule is clear. It’s to prioritize religious beliefs over patient care, thereby undermining access to contraception, abortion, HIV treatment and a hose of other medical services. We are not going to let the Trump administration push our country back to 1940s health care,” he said.

According to Herrera, the rule is vague and could apply not just to doctors and nurses but anyone related to the health care system like receptionists.

“Threatening the health of women, seniors, and the sick doesn’t demonstrate strength or conviction. It’s simply craven,” he said. “Rather than protecting civil rights, this new rule makes a mockery of them.”

If San Francisco refuses to comply with the rule, the city risks losing nearly $1 billion in federal funds that go toward Medicaid and Medicare, HIV treatment and assistance for low-income families and foster children, among other critical services.

“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 said.

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.

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