By Susan Heavey
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Obama administration is willing to work with Catholic universities and hospitals in implementing new rules that require health insurance to cover birth control, a top adviser to the president's re-election campaign said on Tuesday.
Signaling possible room for compromise on the issue, David Axelrod said such religious institutions have a grace period to find a way to include health insurance coverage for contraception as part of the U.S. healthcare overhaul without going against Catholic Church doctrine.
"We certainly don't want to abridge anyone's religious freedom so we're going to look for a way to move forward that both guarantees women that basic preventive care that they need and respects the prerogatives of religious institutions," Axelrod, a senior adviser to President Barack Obama's re-election team, said on MSNBC's "Morning Joe."
His comments come amid strong pushback from Catholic Church officials, who have expressed outrage and say the move will force affiliated institutions to go against Church teachings. The Church does not condone birth control.
Over the weekend, Catholic clergy across the country called for congregations to protest the rule and pressure the administration to back down. Republican presidential candidates have also criticized the requirement.
The Obama administration's healthcare overhaul, passed in 2010, calls for health insurance to cover basic preventative services for women.
The Institute of Medicine, an independent arm of the National Academy of Sciences that advises Congress and others on health issues, had recommended covering a fuller range of contraceptive services to help prevent unwanted pregnancies.
U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius adopted the institute's recommendation but included an exemption for churches, although not related religious organizations such as hospitals.
Axelrod did not signal that the administration would reverse course but did show signs that it had heard the Church's concerns and would work with it.
"The real question is how do we get together and resolve this in a way that respects the concerns that have been raised but also assures women across this country that they're going to get the preventive care that they need," he said, speaking from Chicago.
(Reporting By Susan Heavey; additional reporting by Greg McCune in Chicago; Editing by Eric Beech)