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Obama revamps contraceptive policy

NBC's Kristen Welker reports.

Updated at 12:53 p.m. ET- President Barack Obama announced Friday that the administration will not require religious-affiliated institutions to cover birth control for their employees.

Capping weeks of growing controversy, Obama said 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.

"Under the rule, women will still have access to free preventive care that includes contraceptive services no matter where they work. That core principle remains," he said from the White House briefing room.

"Religious liberty will be protected and a law that requires free preventative care will not discriminate against women," Obama added.

An announcement from the White House reveals that later today the President will announce contraception rule changes. NBC's Kristen Welker reports.

Planned Parenthood responded Friday with a statement, saying, "The Obama administration has reaffirmed its commitment to ensuring all women will have access to birth control coverage, with no costly co-pays, no additional hurdles, and no matter where they work ...  we will be vigilant in holding the administration and the institutions accountable for a rigorous, fair and consistent implementation of the policy ..."

Following an intense White House debate that led to the original policy, officials said Obama seriously weighed the concerns over religious liberty, leading to the revamped decision.

It was just on Jan. 20 that the Obama administration announced that religious-affiliated employers -- outside of churches and houses of worships -- had to cover birth control free of charge as preventative care for women.

These hospitals, schools and charities were given an extra year to comply, until August 2013, but that concession failed to satisfy opponents, who responded with outrage.

Catholic cardinals and bishops across the country assailed the policy in Sunday Masses. Republican leaders in Congress promised emergency legislation to overturn Obama's move. The president's rivals in the race for the White House accused him of attacking religion. Prominent lawmakers from Obama's own party began openly deriding the policy.

The Washington Post's Eugene Robinson and MSNBC's Chris Matthews join a conversation on how the White House will respond to the Catholic Church's demands.

The sentiment on the other side, though, was also fierce. Women's groups, liberal religious leaders and health advocates pressed Obama not to cave in on the issue.

The furor has consumed media attention and threatened to undermine Obama's re-election bid just as he was in a stride over improving economic news.

Political reality forced the White House to come up with a solution to a complex matter must faster than anticipated.

The fact that Obama delivered the news himself was a sign of the stakes.

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