- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Advisers to President Obama sent signals Tuesday that the administration is considering a compromise with Catholic-affiliated institutions following an uproar over the administration’s plans to force them to offer birth control with employees’ health-care coverage.

David Axelrod, a senior adviser to Mr. Obama’s reelection campaign, signaled the potential retreat during an interview on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe”.

“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 preventive care that they need and respects the prerogatives of religious institutions,” Mr. Axelrod said. “I’m less concerned about the messaging of this than to find a resolution that makes sense.”

And the pastor of a Florida megachurch who advises Mr. Obama on religious issues said he is talking with the administration about a compromise.

“There are conversations right now to arrange a meeting to talk with folks about how this policy can be nuanced,” Pastor Joel Hunter told The Washington Post. “This is so fixable, and we just want to get into the conversation.”

The administration has said it is willing to work with religious hospitals, universities and other institutions, but White House officials have been portraying those efforts in the context of giving organizations up to a year to comply with the new rule. The floating of a possible compromise Tuesday came as church leaders and religious groups intensified their criticism of the administration.

White House press secretary Jay Carney said Tuesday that the administration “will will work in this [transition] period to see if … the implementation of the policy can be done in a way that allays some of those concerns.” But he said Mr. Obama “is committed to making sure that all women have access to these important preventive services.”

The outcry has been led by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. In dioceses across the country, priests have read letters from the pulpit denouncing the administration’s plan, which they say would require faith leaders to violate their religious principles.

The new rule was issued Jan. 20 as part of the administration’s implementation of the 2010 federal health care law. It requires employer to cover contraception as well as the so-called “morning after pill” and sterilization measures such as vasectomies in insurance plans offered to employees. Churches are exempt, but church-affiliated employers such as hospitals and universities are not.

Pro-life groups are urging grassroots supporters to write to Congress to overturn the new requirement. As of Tuesday, more than 25,000 people had signed an online petition.

The issue has emerged in the presidential race also. Republican frontrunner Mitt Romney said Mr. Obama is trampling religious freedom; former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said the president is waging a “war on religion.”

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