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WASHINGTON DC (AP) -
President Barack Obama declared Friday he's found a solution that will protect religious liberty but also ensure that women have access to free birth control, as he rushed to defuse an election-year political uproar that threatened to overtake his administration.
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 birth control coverage 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 a brief 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."
Senior administration officials tell The Associated Press that President Barack Obama on Friday will announce that religious employers will not have to cover birth control for their employees after all. He will demand instead that insurance companies will be the ones ultimately responsible for providing free contraception.
Obama's abrupt retreat is an attempt to address concerns from Catholic leaders and end an election-year nightmare for the White House.
Women will still get guaranteed access to birth control without co-pays or premiums no matter where they work.
But religious organizations that see contraception as a violation of their faith can refuse to cover it, and insurance companies will then have to do so.
Senior administration officials confirmed details to the AP on condition of anonymity ahead of an announcement by Obama.