Obama takes U-turn on birth control rule

The White House, in an abrupt shift aimed at quelling an election-year firestorm, announced on Friday that religious employers would not be required to offer free birth control to workers and that the onus would instead be put on insurers.

The compromise, to be formally unveiled by President Barack Obama, seeks to accommodate religious organizations outraged by a new rule that would have required them to offer free contraceptive coverage. Instead, the new approach puts the burden on insurance companies, ordering them to provide workers at religious-affiliated institutions with free family planning if they request it, without involving their employer at all, the White House said.

The rule had sparked an outcry from Catholic Church leaders, Republicans and other social conservatives who denounced it as an attack on religious freedom.

Poll decision

The policy shift is aimed at defusing the controversy and preventing it from becoming a liability for Obama’s re-election campaign, while at the same time trying not to anger his liberal base. But it was unlikely to assuage all of the concerns of church leaders.

“Under the new policy announced, women will have free preventive care that includes contraceptive services no matter where she works,” the White House said in a statement.

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