NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- President Barack Obama is revamping the birth control policy that has divided the nation.
The proposal allows religious employers not to offer the contraception care they object to. Insurance companies will be required to offer care directly to those employees.
The announcement follows an intense backlash and an unusually public war of words with Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan. The proposal by the White House is seen as an effort to soften the requirement that religious institutions cover birth control for their employees.
"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," Obama said. "This is an issue where people of good will on both sides of the debate have been sorting through some very complicated questions."
Obama hopes that the announcement will be seen as an accommodation to Catholic Church leaders furious that they have been told Catholic institutions like schools and hospitals will have to pay for birth control and "morning after" pills as part of their employee health packages.
"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. We've also been mindful that there is another principal at stake here and that's the principal of religious liberty, an unalienable right that is enshrined in our constitution," Obama said.
"Religious liberty will be protected and a law that requires free preventative care will not discriminate against women."
WCBS 880's Marla Diamond On The Story
Catholic groups, though, are livid, calling the president's move a "ploy" that "adds insult to injury." You see, it seems many Catholic employers use Catholic insurance carriers. The Catholic League, for example, insures through Christian Brothers Insurance Company, so requiring it to provide free birth control to a female employee is regarded with horror, reports CBS 2's Marcia Kramer.
Needless to say, the compromise did little to appease leading Catholic figures like Catholic League President Bill Donohue and Newark Archbishop John Myers.
"Right now I can tell her to fly a kite. Now, under this plan if this were operative I'd be forced to go to Christian Brothers and you don't even have to pay yourself. I'm going to subsidize your abortion for you. What are they crazy? They think this is going to settle well with Catholics?" Donohue said.
"To pretend that we get something out of this when all you're doing is a back door technique is insulting and quite frankly, it's also devious."
Donohue said he's been meeting with members of other faiths -- Protestants, Jews and Mormons. They see this as a religious war to protect the First Amendment and religious freedom.
"This step doesn't truly address the religious liberty issues or the conscience protection issues," said Newark Archdiocese spokesman Jim Goodness.
New Jersey, New York and Connecticut are among 28 states that mandate all employers provide contraception as part of the health plans offered to employees, but some faith-based organizations refuse to prescribe it.
1010 WINS' Steve Sandberg reports
Judy Waxman with the National Women's Law Center expects that to change.
"What this new law does is it expands the very same obligation to more employers than are covered by the state law," she told WCBS 880 reporter Marla Diamond.
Steve Sandberg of 1010 WINS spoke with some New Yorkers outside St. Patrick's Cathedral who had various opinions about the issue, including "Lori," who said the proposal strikes the necessary balance religious rights and personal freedoms.
"Because the institution gets to hold up their ideals, but ultimately, it's an individual's choice," she said.
"Jill" considers herself a woman of faith, but says her individual rights as a woman trump those of her religion.
"It think women for women's health deserve the right to have contraceptive needs covered. It protects them and it's a basic right -- just like it is for men to have other kinds of support," she said.
Still others are voicing their support for the proposal.
"If you're anti-abortion, how do you prevent abortion? With birth control and the Catholic church should be in the forefront of providing birth control for women and to not do that is unconscionable, unethical and anti-women in way that is just so sad," one woman said.
The proposal also requires the entire cost of birth control to be covered by the insurer.
Obama's move comes less than 24 hours after sources told CBS 2's Kramer that Dolan felt betrayed following his meeting with and private assurances from the president on the issue late last year.
"Well, yeah, I'm honest in saying I feel a bit let down," Dolan told Kramer Thursday. But sources told Kramer the feelings ran deeper than what was being said in public - that Dolan felt betrayed after his November meeting. Sources said the president promised Dolan he would "get most of what he wanted."
Instead, the administration issued a directive forcing Catholic institutions like schools and hospitals to pay for birth control and the "morning after" pill for their employees. The nation's 355,000 churches would have been exempt.
What do you make of the possible compromise? Is the White House buckling? Should they? Sound off in our comments section below.
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