After weeks of controversy, President Barack Obama has backed away from requiring religious hospitals and other institutions to provide health insurance covering birth control.
On Friday the president he has found a solution that will protect religious liberty but also ensure that women have access to free contraceptives.
“No woman’s health should depend on who she is, or where she works, or how much money she makes," he said. "Every woman should be in control of the decisions that affect her own health. Period.”
The Obama administration’s health care reform act requires that employer insurance plans cover birth control. The rule exempts houses of worship, but religious-affiliated hospitals, universities and charities were not exempted.
That brought down strong criticism from the Roman Catholic Church, which objects to most birth control, and operates scores of universities, schools, hospitals and charities in the U.S.
Women’s groups, liberal religious leaders and health advocates pressured Mr. Obama to stand firm.
The president also said that his revised plan still gives women free access to contraceptive services. However, he is putting the responsibility for providing those services on insurance companies instead.
“But if a woman’s employer is a charity or a hospital that has a religious objection to providing contraceptive services as part of their health plan, the insurance company, not the hospital, not the charity, will be required to reach out and offer the woman contraceptive care free of charge.”
Although some opposition Republican politicians remained critical of the new rule as a violation of U.S. guarantees of religious freedom, the Catholic Health Association, which represents Catholic hospitals approved of the compromise. Planned Parenthood, a reproductive health charity, also endorsed it Friday.
The administration says the new rule does not require doctors to prescribe, or women to use, any birth control method that violates their religious beliefs.
The uproar has been a growing political problem for Mr. Obama, nine months before the presidential election. Catholic groups and some Democrats had joined Republicans in their opposition to the three-week-old rule.
The administration had originally given itself a year to work out the details of birth control coverage, but decided to accelerate a resolution.