President Obama has conceded to religious leaders outraged over a new health care policy regarding contraceptives, offering a compromise Friday.
"Religious liberty will be protected," Obama said in a press conference, announcing a compromise that shifted the burden from religious-affiliated employers to their insurance companies.
At the center of controversy over the past few weeks was a new policy scheduled to be implemented in August as part of the Affordable Care Act. Preventative services for women, which includes contraceptives, will be mandatory for employers to include in their health care plans, and must be covered without charging a co-pay or deductible.
"Religous or not (women) should have that option so I think that's a good thing," Colorado Springs resident Tammy Levy said.
In January, the administration announced that exemptions to the new law would not be made for employers at religious-affiliated institutions, outraging many in the religious community who saw the move as too much government overreach into matters of the church, as well as forcing employers to go against their moral conscience.
Churches were exempted, but organizations such as universities and hospitals were required to comply.
Under the amended law, which Obama elaborated on Friday, religious organizations will not be required to provide contraceptive coverage, pay for it, or refer employees to places that would offer it. The onus will be placed on the employers' insurance companies, who will be required to offer women contraceptive coverage directly and free of charge if their employer will not.
"I think it was a step in the right direction. I'm not sure it should be mandated by anyone that anyone should have to provide that," Springs resident Ebony Kolozsy said.
The White House is adamant that they are not abandoning their position that all women should have guaranteed access to free preventative care, including birth control, and will continue to make it mandatory for all but religious employers to offer it.
"No woman's health should depend on who she is or where she works, or how much money she makes. Every woman should be in control of the decisions that affect her own health. Period," Obama said Friday.
The White House hopes Obama's compromise will quell the firestorm that has erupted over the last week. GOP presidential candidates wasted no time turning the policy into an election issue: Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum both called the measure an assault on religion. House Speaker John Boehner threatened legislative action.
It was flawless timing for Republicans, who found themselves struggling to downplay positive economic news in the wake of better-than-anticipated unemployment and job-creation numbers released in January. The economy has long been seen as Obama's Achilles heel going into the presidential election. The contraceptive policy gave the GOP a chance to pivot from the economy onto social issues, with cries of First Amendment infringement appeasing a base largely disenchanted with their presidential prospects.
"In imposing this requirement the federal government has drifted dangerously beyond its constitutional boundaries encroaching on religious freedom in a manner that affects millions of Americans and harms some of our nation's most vital institutions," Boehner said earlier in the week.
Senate Democrats blasted Republicans Wednesday for turning contraception into an ideological battle.
"Women in this country are tired of being treated like a political football by Republicans in Congress who have tried continually and are continuing to try to take away their benefits--to take away their rights," Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said.
"We want to make sure that the religious freedom of all Americans is protected and that means the women who work for institutions which serve the general public," Boxer added. "It's medicine--and women deserve their medicine."
Obama addressed the political circus surrounding the policy in his speech Friday.
"I understand some folks in Washington want to treat this as another political wedge issue. But it shouldn't be. I certainly never saw it that way. This is an issue where people of good will on both sides of the debate have been sorting through some very complicated questions."
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