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The Obama administration announced today a small shift in an earlier position on who covers contraception, but observers are still voicing concerns over how his administration exempts religious groups.

Religious organizations will not have to provide or directly subsidize the cost of contraception or refer their employees to organizations that provide contraception, the administration announced. "Religious liberty will be protected, and a law that requires free preventive care will not discriminate against women," Obama said in a press conference. Rather, employers' insurance companies must offer contraception coverage to women directly, free of charge.

Pro-life groups released statements suggesting the shift was not enough. "The so-called one year delay last month was a clear slap in the face of religious groups, and this new proposal still requires religious entities that are not exempt as a church to subsidize and pay insurance companies so they can give free birth control to their employees," said Tony Perkins, Family Research Council president. "However, it won't be free, because the insurance companies will increase the premium and administrative costs to the employer."

A White House official told the Washington Post that under the policy, insurers will not be able to set premiums higher than it would have been without birth control.

Religious groups' initial concerns centered on two issues. In its August announcement, the administration required that religious employers that are not churches would have to cover certain contraceptives such as Plan B (or "the morning-after pill"). Groups also voiced concerns about the narrow religious exemption of churches, which was not changed under Obama's decision today.

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February 2012

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