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White House will ‘work with’ religious groups on birth control rule

By Kathleen Hennessey, Tribune Washington Bureau –

WASHINGTON — Faced with continued blowback from a new rule on health insurance coverage for birth control, the White House on Tuesday emphasized that the details of the mandate were not yet settled.

“We’re going to continue to work with religious groups to try to allay their concerns as we implement a policy that provides this coverage to women across the country,” White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters in the daily briefing.

But the comments were more a shift in emphasis than substance. Carney said President Barack Obama remains committed to the policy, which requires some religious institutions to provide their employees with health insurance that covers contraceptives.

The decision was immediately denounced by Catholic leaders as a violation of their religious liberty. Some Democrats, and now GOP candidates, also have chimed in. Conservative groups have accused the president of “waging a war on religion.”

The new rule, crafted as part of the Department of Health and Human Services implementation of the health care law, does not apply to churches and church-run organizations. Other religiously affiliated institutions, such as Catholic hospitals, charities and universities, have one year to phase in the new mandate.

Obama campaign adviser David Axelrod also pointed to that transitional period as a potential place for compromise.

“We certainly don’t want to abridge anyone’s religious freedoms, so we’re going to look for a way to move forward that both provides women with the preventative care that they need and respects the prerogatives of religious institutions,” Axelrod said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

But neither Axelrod nor Carney discussed what a sort of compromise might be crafted. And asked if it remains the case that the president is committed to the policy, Carney said yes.

“It does.  The president is committed to making sure that all women have access to these important preventive services,” he said.

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