San Francisco sues Trump administration over 'conscience' protections, claims it could lose nearly $1B in federal funds

San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera sued the Trump administration on Thursday, accusing it of effectively sacrificing patients' health and lives by expanding "conscience" protections for patients and health care professionals who opposed controversial treatments.

“At its core, this rule is about denying people medical care,” Herrera said, according to a press release from Thursday. “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 was one of many critics who blasted the administration's decision after the Health and Human Services Department (HHS) announced it would beef up enforcement of protections for health care professionals who objected to procedures like euthanasia, abortion and sterilization.

"People’s health should not be a political football," Herrera added. "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 host of other medical services.

"We are not going to let the Trump administration push our country back to 1940s health care.”

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The city's lawsuit requested that a court lock the administration from implementing the rule and declare it unconstitutional. According to Herrera's office, the new rule — it applies to government-funded entities — would also put it at risk of losing nearly $1 billion in federal funding that it says helps low-income families, foster children and others.

"Once again, the Trump administration is trying to bully local governments by threatening to withhold federal funds. That’s not how American democracy works," Herrera said. "The president does not have that authority under the Constitution."

Its unclear how the lawsuit will proceed; when Fox News reached out for comment, HHS reiterated its policy not to comment on pending litigation.

Roger Severino, director of HHS' Office of Civil Rights, defended the policy as a way to provide conscience protections with the same enforcement as other civil rights laws.  "Protecting conscience and religious freedom not only fosters greater diversity in health care, it’s the law," he declared.

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Thursday's rule was just the latest controversial decision HHS has made under President Trump's leadership. HHS also faced scrutiny over its decision to interpret a federal, sex-based discrimination statute according to biological characteristics — a move that angered progressives who preferred that gender identity be considered as well.

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The department has already encountered a number of legal challenges under Trump. At the end of last month, for example, a Washington judge blocked the administration's rule withholding Title X family planning grants from clinics that referred patients for abortions.