President Barack Obama aboard Air Force One (Pic by The White House, via Flickr)

The White House today announced a compromise for religious groups lambasting a recent mandate requiring health insurers to cover contraception as a preventive service. The federal government will now be extending an exemption of the mandate to religious organizations — including faith-based hospitals.

Religious groups and lawmakers (most Republican) have been criticizing the new requirement by claiming it is an infringment on religious freedom. Obama has responded to the controversy by announcing an accommodation for religious organizations that provide health care.

According to a fact sheet on the policy change obtained by Reuters, the White House announced that:

Today, President Obama announced that his Administration will implement a policy that accommodates religious liberty while protecting the health of women. Today, nearly 99 percent of all women have used contraception at some point in their lives, but more than half of all women between the ages of 18-34 struggle to afford it.

Under the new policy announced today, women will have free preventive care that includes contraceptive services no matter where she works. The policy also ensures that if a woman works for religious employers with objections to providing contraceptive services as part of its health plan, the religious employer will not be required to provide contraception coverage but her insurance company will be required to offer contraceptive care free of charge.

The new policy ensures women can get contraception without paying a co-pay and addresses important concerns raised by religious groups by ensuring that objecting religious employers will not have to provide contraceptive coverage or refer women to organizations that provide contraception.

Women’s health advocates have said the accommodation represents a “reaffirmation of the commitment to ensuring contraceptive coverage” from the Obama administration. Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said in a statement today that the “announcement makes it clear that President Obama is firmly committed to protecting women’s health.”

“Unfortunately, some opponents of contraception may not be satisfied,” Keenan said. “These groups and their allies in Congress want to take away contraceptive coverage from nurses, janitors, administrative staff, and college instructors—and that agenda is out of touch with our country’s values and priorities. We will continue to fight on every front to support women’s access to birth control as politicians in Washington, D.C. try to take it away.”

The decision pleases big names in the middle of this controversy. ABC News reports that both Planned Parenthood and the Catholic Health Association are applauding the accommodation.

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