Republican confronts Obama on birth-control mandate

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Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) said he approached Obama after the hour-long meeting in the Capitol and asked the president "about conscience rights," a reference to the administration's controversial decision to require most employers to cover birth control for their workers.

Fortenberry has been one of the most vocal critics of that decision, which was passed down by the Health and Human Services Department in January of last year as the agency was implementing the Democrats' healthcare reform law. Opponents say it will force some employers – particularly faith-based non-profits – to cover contraception in defiance of their moral convictions.

"I did want to raise this because this is a deep concern for some of us," Fortenberry said Wednesday. He said asked Obama "if there's an opening to reconsider the administration's position."

Fortenberry did not reveal Obama's response, but said he felt as if the president took his concerns seriously. He described the overall meeting as "respectful."

At issue is a provision of the Democrats' healthcare reform law requiring employers to cover their workers' preventative services – a category the HHS has said must include contraception. The administration exempted churches, but not church-based charities, universities and hospitals.

The mandate sparked an immediate outcry from Republicans, some Democrats and religious groups – particularly the Catholic Church – and led Obama to tweak the rule so that women's contraceptive services remain free, but the cost will be absorbed by the employer's insurance company, not the employer itself.

The change, finalized in February, did nothing to appease critics like Fortenberry, who was the lead sponsor of legislation in the last Congress granting waivers to any employer who objects to the birth-control mandate for religious or moral reasons.

A number of lawsuits challenging the mandate are pending.