President Barack Obama declared Friday he's found a solution to a birth-control uproar that will protect religious liberty but also ensure that women have access to free contraception, as he rushed to defuse an election-year issue that threatened to overtake his administration.
Watch: Jim Kenyon's exclusive interview with Bishop Robert J. Cunningham
Capping weeks of growing controversy, Obama announced he was backing off a newly announced requirement for religious employers to provide free birth control coverage even if it runs counter to their religious beliefs. Instead, workers at such institutions will be able to get free contraception directly from health insurance companies.
"Religious liberty will be protected and a law that requires free preventative care will not discriminate against women," Obama said in an appearance in the White House briefing room.
"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's abrupt shift was an attempt to satisfy both sides of a deeply sensitive debate, and most urgently, to end a mounting political nightmare for the White House.
Although the administration had originally given itself more than year to work out the details of the new birth control coverage requirement for religious employers, the president acknowledged that the situation had become untenable and demanded a swift solution.
Congressional Republicans as well as GOP presidential hopefuls were beating up on Obama relentlessly over the issue, and even Democrats and liberal groups allied with the Roman Catholic church were defecting.
The administration 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.