Obama Blinks on Contraception Rule

VIDEO: Americans divided over whether religious organizations should provide coverage.
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Seeking to quell a political uproar over religious liberty and contraception, President Obama announced today that religious-affiliated institutions will not be mandated to cover birth control for their employees.

"Religious organizations won't have to pay for these services and no religious institution will have to provide these services directly," the president announced from the White House briefing room. "Let me repeat: These employers will not have to pay for or provide contraceptive services, but women who work at these institutions will have access to free contraceptive services just like other women."

Under the new policy, insurance companies will instead be directly responsible for providing free contraception.

"Religious organizations won't have to pay for these services and no religious institution will have to provide these services directly," Obama said.

The president's abrupt shift is intended to calm the firestorm surrounding the administration's recent ruling to require most employers, including Catholic hospitals and charities, to offer health insurance that fully covers contraception and satisfy both sides of the explosive debate.

After the initial ruling was met with outrage from Republicans on Capitol Hill and on the campaign trail, the president urged politicians today not to use this issue as a "political football."

"I understand some folks in Washington may want to treat this as another political wedge issue, but it shouldn't be. I certainly never saw it that way," Obama said. "This is an issue where people of good will, on both sides of the debate, have been sorting though some complicated issues to find a solution for everyone."

Women will still get guaranteed access to contraception without a co-pay regardless of where they work "without co-pays and without hassles," the president explained.

If a woman works for an employer that objects to providing contraception because of its religious beliefs, the insurance company will step in and offer birth control free of charge.

The president made clear that the "accommodation," first reported by ABC News, should not be seen as his backing off his commitment to providing preventative care.

"Women will still have access to free preventive care that includes contraceptive services, no matter where they work. That core principle remains," he said.

"We live in a pluralistic society where we're not going to agree on every single issue or share every belief. That doesn't mean that we have to choose between individual liberty and basic fairness for all Americans. We are unique among nations for having been founded upon both these principles, and our obligation as citizens is to carry them forward. I have complete faith that we can do that," he added.

Both sides of the debate have reacted positively to the president's revised plan.

The president of the Catholic Health Association said she is "pleased" with the revised policy. "The framework developed has responded to the issues we identified that needed to be fixed," Carol Keehan said in a written statement before the president's official announcement.

"We are pleased and grateful that the religious liberty and conscience protection needs of so many ministries that serve our country were appreciated enough that an early resolution of this issue was accomplished."

Planned Parenthood also supported the president's decision. "In the face of a misleading and outrageous assault on women's health, the Obama administration has reaffirmed its commitment to ensuring all women will have access to birth control coverage, with no costly co-pays, no additional hurdles, and no matter where they work," Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards said in a written statement before the announcement.

"We believe the compliance mechanism does not compromise a woman's ability to access these critical birth control benefits."

Learn more tonight on "World News with Diane Sawyer"

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