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Timothy Dolan: Birth control tweak a "first step"

Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan and Barack Obama
President Obama and Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan. Getty Images

Updated 6:14 p.m. Eastern Time

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, which has been harshly critical of a federal requirement that church-linked organizations provide contraceptive coverage to their employees, said Friday that it was reserving judgment on the administration's decision to tweak the policy.

After uproar, Obama tweaks birth control rule

Under the policy announced Friday, employees of religiously-linked schools, hospitals and charities would still have access to free contraceptive coverage - but those organizations would not have to pay for it. Instead, health insurance companies would be required to provide it free of charge, though it remains unclear exactly how that would work.

The Conference said in a statement that it sees "initial opportunities" in the policy change, but that it still had concerns.

"While there may be an openness to respond to some of our concerns, we reserve judgment on the details until we have them," Cardinal-designate and Conference president Timothy Dolan said.

"Today's decision to revise how individuals obtain services that are morally objectionable to religious entities and people of faith is a first step in the right direction," he added. "We hope to work with the Administration to guarantee that Americans' consciences and our religious freedom are not harmed by these regulations."

Appearing on CBS This Morning on Thursday, Dolan calledthe initial decision "a terribly misguided judgment." He said Wednesday that "the federal government should do what it's traditionally done since July 4, 1776, namely back out of intruding into the internal life of a church."  

A White House official told CBS News that Mr. Obama called Dolan to tell him about the change in policy before his Friday announcement.

Speaking in the White House briefing room Friday, the president said the policy change protects religious liberty while ensuring that "women will still have access to free preventive care that includes contraceptive services no matter where they work." (See his remarks at left.)

"This is an issue where people of good will on both sides of the debate have been sorting through some very complicated questions to find a solution that works for everyone," Mr. Obama added.

Planned Parenthood and many on the left have already responded positivelyto the policy change. A handful of Democrats joined the majority of Republicans in criticizing the initial decision, which has become a talking point for the Republican presidential candidates on the campaign trail. 

Sen. Bob Casey, a Pennsylvania Democrat who was critical of the initial decision, said he still needs to "review the details of today's announcement to determine whether it strikes the right balance."

"I appreciate the administration's attempt to find a solution to protect religious liberty," he said. "I also appreciate those who have proposed other remedies."

West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin, who put forth a billin the Senate to reverse the initial decision, also said he needed more time to review the proposal. In a statement, Manchin said that he wants "to make sure that the First Amendment of the Constitution is protected and no religious institution will be required to pay for contraceptives when it violates their views. I also want to make sure that women have access to contraceptives."

Democratic Senator Bill Nelson of Florida, who had also been critical, was more enthusiastic.

"This seems to solve the problem where religious affiliated institutions won't have to provide coverage if it's not in keeping with its beliefs and women will have access to contraception," he said.

"But I still intend to review the specifics of the rule," added Nelson.

A spokesperson for House Speaker John Boehner, who called the initial decision "an unambiguous attack on religious freedom," said the Republican-led House will continue efforts to "work toward a legislative solution" to the issue despite the announcement.

A recent poll by the Public Religion Research Institute found that a slim majority of Americans - including Catholics - believe that "employers should be required to provide their employees with health care plans that cover contraception and birth control at no cost."

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