Contraceptive Mandate 'Should Not Be a Political Wedge Issue': 'I Never Saw It That Way,' Obama Says

By Susan Jones | February 10, 2012 | 12:39 PM EST

President Barack Obama pauses while announcing the revamp of his contraception policy requiring religious institutions to fully pay for birth control, Friday, Feb. 10, 2012, in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

( - Religious liberty will be protected, and women will still get contraception if they want it, President Obama announced Friday as he stepped before the television cameras to calm a firestorm over a health care regulation that infringed religious liberty.

"I've been confident from the start that we could work out a sensible approach here," Obama said. "I understand some folks in Washington may want to treat this as another political wedge issue. But it shouldn't be. I certainly never saw it that way. 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. With today's announcement, we've done that. Religious liberty will be  protected, and a law that requires free preventive care will not discriminate against women.

"We live in a pluralistic society, where we're not going to agree on every single issue or share every belief. That doesn't mean that we have to choose between individual liberty and basic fairness for all Americans."

Under Obama's revised plan, women will still get guaranteed access to birth control without co-pays or premiums no matter where they work. But religious-affiliated universities and hospitals that view contraception as immoral and impermissible can refuse to cover it, and insurance companies will then have to step in to do so.

"If a woman's employer is a charity or a hospital that has a religious objection to providing contraceptive services as part of their health plan -- the insurance company, not the hospital, not the charity -- will be required to reach out and offer the woman contraceptive care free of charge - without copays and without hassles," Obama said.

He left the room without taking questions from reporters.

Kathleen Sebeilus, in an interview with Fox News shortly after Obama spoke, said insurance companies are supposed to offer women "the full range of contraception that the FDA has approved." She said the Department of Health and Human services "will work cosely with insurers to make sure that that is fulfilled, and that women have access to this incredibly important, used benefit.

Sebelius said prescription contraceptives are the most frequently taken drug among women "from the age of about 14 to 44."