UPDATE 3-Obama to try to placate Catholics on contraceptives
* Preserves goal of contraceptive insurance coverage
* Washington archbishop says concern is religious freedom (Updates with background)
By Stephanie Simon and Caren Bohan
Feb 10 (Reuters) - Seeking to quell a political firestorm, the White House will announce a plan to accommodate religious organizations on its rule for health insurance coverage of contraceptives, sources familiar with the matter said on Friday.
The Obama administration has faced an election-year backlash from Catholic Church leaders, Republicans and others who have said the regulation is an attack on religious freedom. The new proposal is unlikely to satisfy all the concerns of church leaders, the sources told Reuters.
The proposal will aim to show flexibility toward religious organizations that have criticized the policy, but will preserve the central White House goal of ensuring that women employees of religious institutions, including schools and hospitals, receive full coverage of contraceptives in health insurances plans.
The proposed deal, first reported by ABC News, could be made public as early as Friday.
The administration has been looking at several state laws that let religious employers opt out of covering birth control in their insurance packages, so long as they refer women to a provider that will offer the benefit at low cost.
But Catholic leaders have already said they oppose that option, arguing that referring women to low-cost contraception is as immoral as distributing the drugs and devices first-hand.
The regulation at the center of the controversy requires religious-affiliated groups such as charities, hospitals and universities, but not churches themselves, to provide employees coverage for birth control as other health insurance providers must do. The Catholic Church opposes most methods of birth control.
Polls indicate a majority of Americans and Catholics support the rule. A Public Religion Research Institute poll taken last week found 55 percent of Americans want employers to provide healthcare plans that cover contraception and birth control, including nearly six in 10 Catholics.
So far, the church's protests have focused mainly on their fear that the new requirement abridges their religious freedom.
Archbishop of Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl, reacting to reports of the planned White House announcement, told MSNBC he was still concerned about religious rights.
"Our concern is our basic freedom, and I'm not sure it makes sense to say 'how if about we compromise away parts of your freedom, how about if this part's acceptable to us and this part isn't.' I would want to see exactly what we're being offered," he said on MSNBC's "Morning Joe."
Several prominent Catholic leaders have indicated in recent days that they are in no mood to compromise and will not accept anything short of the Obama administration withdrawing the regulation, which was announced in January and is part of the administration's 2010 healthcare overhaul.
On the other side of the table, women's rights advocates, who have been pressing Obama to hold his ground, said they would wait to see the details of any proposed compromise before judging it.
But they made clear that they would not be inclined to support any proposal that required women employed by Catholic organizations to navigate additional bureaucracy or pay additional fees to get access to contraceptive coverage. (Additional reporting by Susan Heavey and Vicki Allen; Editing by Vicki Allen, Ross Colvin and Jackie Frank)
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