Herrera files for court order invalidating discriminatory health care rule

So-called ‘conscience rule’ has been on hold; SF and coalition partners are now asking the federal courts to invalidate it

City Attorney Dennis Herrera

SAN FRANCISCO (Sept. 12, 2019) — City Attorney Dennis Herrera today released the following statement after San Francisco joined with Santa Clara County, the State of California, and advocacy groups to file a joint motion for summary judgment asking the court to invalidate a discriminatory federal health care rule sometimes referred to as the “conscience rule”:

“The Trump administration is trying to systematically limit access to critical medical care for women, the LGBTQ community, and other vulnerable patients. It’s not only cruel, it’s against the law. We’re going to do everything we can to protect patients. Hospitals are no place to put personal views above patient care. Refusing treatment to vulnerable patients shouldn’t leave anyone with a clear conscience.”

Case Background

San Francisco was the first in the country to take the administration to court over this health care refusal rule, filing a lawsuit within hours of Trump announcing it on May 2, 2019. The Trump administration misleadingly calls the refusal of care rule the “conscience rule.” 

The new rule had been set to take effect July 22, 2019. San Francisco filed a preliminary injunction to halt the rule from taking effect, and the federal government agreed to delay the effective date of the rule until at least Nov. 22, 2019.

The rule would allow health care professionals to refuse to provide service to patients based on the staffer’s personal beliefs, threatening medical access for women; lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people; and other medically or socially vulnerable populations.  Nurses across the country, including at San Francisco’s level one trauma center, would be able to refuse to provide treatment to women experiencing life-threatening, pregnancy-related complications — even if no other personnel is available to step in. Call operators would be able to refuse to direct patients and potential patients to the correct departments to access contraception, abortions or gender transition-related services. Staff at all levels could be emboldened to discriminate against LGBTQ patients or other vulnerable groups.

San Francisco’s lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California asserts that the Department of Health and Human Services exceeded its statutory authority by creating the rule and violated the Administrative Procedure Act, the spending clause, separation of powers principles, and other provisions of the U.S. Constitution. Advocacy groups and other state and local governments later filed similar lawsuits.

The case is: City and County of San Francisco v. Alex M. Azar II, U.S. District Court case number 3:19-cv-02405, filed May 2, 2019. More information can be found on the City Attorney’s website: www.sfcityattorney.org