Carney: White House will work to allay concerns on contraception rule

President Obama is "sensitive" to the concerns expressed by religious leaders on the contraception issue and wants to find a way to implement the decision that can "allay some of the concerns expressed," White House spokesman Jay Carney said Wednesday.

"Right now we are focused on the implementation of this rule,"Carney told reporters. But the spokesman indicated that the White House is willing to "work with those who have concerns" during the implementation of the decision over the next year.

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"This president ... is very sensitive to concerns like these and wants to find a way to implement it that can allay some of the concerns that have been expressed," Carney said, adding that he "takes the concerns very seriously."

The Obama administration’s decision to require employers, including religious organizations, to provide birth-control coverage in their employees’ health plans has touched off a political firestorm with the Catholic Church, which opposes birth control. While such groups as the church would be exempt from the policy, hospitals, charities and universities affiliated with the Catholic Church and other religious organizations would have to provide the coverage.

Priests at an estimated 70 percent of parishes across the country read a statement protesting the decision at services last week. 

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Wednesday vowed that Congress would repeal the regulation, indicating that Republicans think the administration is vulnerable on the issue. On the campaign trail for the GOP presidential nomination, candidates Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney each criticized the administration for the birth-control decision.

Carney on Wednesday took a swipe at Romney, calling him an "odd messenger" for this.

Carney said he thinks it's "ironic" that Romney would attack Obama for the contraception plan, saying it is "virtually identical" to the one put in place when he was governor of Massachusetts.

Carney told reporters that there's no change in the administration's commitment to give woman access to these services "no matter where they work."

"We're not trying to win an argument here," Carney said. "We're trying to implement a policy."

While saying that Obama is "aware of and engaged" in this issue, the press secretary would not provide any detail about the president's conversations on the matter.

Carney also would not say whether Obama was warned by Vice President Biden and former chief of staff Bill Daley that the contraception decision could be a political liability, as one news report has suggested.

—Pete Kasperowicz and Sam Baker contributed to this report.

Updated at 2:17 p.m.