WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama will announce a plan to accommodate religious employers outraged by a rule that would require them to cover birth control for women free of charge, according to a person familiar with the decision.
Obama was expected to make the announcement at the White House Friday.
The shift is aimed at containing the political firestorm that erupted after Obama announced in January that religious-affiliated employers had to cover birth control as preventative care for women. Churches and houses of worship were exempt, but all other affiliated organizations were ordered to comply by Aug. 2013.
Republican leaders and religious groups, especially Roman Catholics, responded with intense outrage, saying the requirement would force them to violate church teachings and long-held beliefs against contraception.
The issue also pushed social issues to the forefront in an election year that had been dominated by the economy. Abortion, contraception and any of the requirements of Obama’s health care overhaul law have the potential to galvanize the Republicans’ conservative base, critical to voter turnout in the presidential and congressional races.
Republicans vowed to reverse the president’s policy, with House Speaker John Boehner accusing the administration of violating First Amendment rights and undermining some of the country’s most vital institutions, such as Catholic charities, schools and hospitals.
The measure also sparked an internal debate at the White House. Vice President Joe Biden, then-chief of staff Bill Daley and deputy national security adviser Denis McDonough, all Catholics, raised concerns about how the administration proceeded on the policy. On the other side, senior White House advisers Nancy-Ann DeParle, Pete Rouse and David Plouffe argued for the need to ensure coverage for all without exception, as a matter of women’s health and fairness.
The person with knowledge of Obama’s decision requested anonymity in order to speak in advance of the official announcement.