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San Francisco city attorney sues to block Trump admin's new pro-life protections

He claims the city could lose $1 billion for refusing to respect people's conscience rights.

Steve Jennings/WireImage via Getty Images

The very same day that the Trump administration announced a new federal rule to protect the conscience rights of pro-life health care workers and organizations, a San Francisco city official sued to block it.

"At its core, this rule is about denying people medical care," San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera said in a Thursday 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."

Now, what does the new rule do exactly? It merely changes the enforcement mechanisms for federal laws that are already on the books to protect the conscience rights of, as President Donald Trump said, "physicians, pharmacists, nurses, teachers, students and faith-based charities."

Those enforcement mechanisms have been stepped up, an administration official explained to reporters Thursday, because a previous Obama-era rule was found insufficient to adequately enforce federal conscience protections.

A fact sheet from the Department of Health and Human Services outlines the various pre-existing laws and policies from which the rule draws its enforcement authority.

Despite these facts, the Herrera said the administration is using people's health as a "political football" to "prioritize religious beliefs over patient care."

"The new rule requires cities like San Francisco — in all circumstances — to prioritize a staff person's religious beliefs over the health and lives of patients," the city attorney's news release contends.

So, the unspoken logical conclusion of Herrera's contention would be that, in situations where the demands of an employer collide with deeply held, millennia-old religious and moral beliefs, those beliefs should be railroaded rather than protected by existing law, or the employer having to work out something equitable for both parties.

Of course, Herrera's legal argument is all based on speculation at this point, rather than the effects of the rule on anyone in his jurisdiction. As of the time of his announcement, the rule had not even been published in the Federal Register, and it can't take effect until it has been published for 60 days.

But if it does and San Francisco refuses to comply with the new enforcement mechanisms, the northern California liberal stronghold could stand to lose around $1 billion in federal funding, the city attorney's office says.

The lawsuit names HHS, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar II, and the department's Office for Civil Rights Director Roger Severino as defendants.

The new 440-page HHS rule can be read in full here. Herrera's legal complaint can be read in full here.

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