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What’s Behind A Rise In Conscience Complaints For Health Care Workers?

The Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Civil Rights has issued new rules protecting health care workers who refuse to be involved in certain procedures for religious or moral reasons.

Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

When health care workers feel they have been forced to do something they disagree with on moral or religious grounds, they can file complaints with the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights. Some high-profile cases have involved nurses who objected to providing abortion services.

For a decade, the agency got an average of one of these complaints of conscience violations each year. The complaints can include doctors, nurses or other health care workers who feel a hospital or clinic that receives federal funds has discriminated against them because of their moral position. Groups of health care providers also can file complaints.

Last year, the number of complaints jumped to 343.

That increase was cited by the Office of Civil Rights as one reason for issuing a new rule designed to protect conscience rights, unveiled publicly last week. HHS estimates that implementing and enforcing the rule will cost taxpayers $312 million in its first year.

But why did the number of complaints increase?

HHS declined to offer any specifics on the 343 complaints, such as where they were from or what might be behind the sudden increase over past years.

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