By Mike Lillis - 02/11/12 06:15 PM EST
Faced with a religious-based outcry over his birth-control mandate, President Obama on Friday unveiled an "accommodation" he said "protects" the religious freedom of churches opposed to contraception.
Just hours later, the Catholic Church rejected the plan.
"In a nation dedicated to religious liberty as its first and founding principle, we should not be limited to negotiating within these parameters," the bishops said in a lengthy statement. "The only complete solution to this religious liberty problem is for HHS [the Health and Human Services Department] to rescind the mandate of these objectionable services."
The bishops also pushed back against Obama's assertion, made Friday, that he's been in direct contact with Catholic leaders "from the very beginning of this process." The bishops said they weren't a part of any recent talks.
"We just received information about this proposal for the first time this morning," the USCCB said. "We were not consulted in advance."
The bishops are calling on Congress to pass legislation to rescind the birth-control mandate – a course House Republican leaders are still vowing to take.
At issue is a provision of the Democrats' healthcare reform law requiring employers to provide free preventive-care services to workers – a category HHS has deemed will include contraception for women. The administration exempted churches, but not church-based charities, universities and hospitals.
The distinction caused an outcry in recent weeks from Republicans, some Democrats and religious groups, particularly the Catholic Church. The mandate, the critics argue, infringes on religious freedoms by forcing church-backed entities to pay for contraceptive services they find morally objectionable.
The backlash caused Obama to tweak the mandate Friday so that contraceptive services remain both available and free, but the cost will shift from the church-based employer to the employer's healthcare plan.
Obama said the compromise represents "an equitable solution that protects religious liberty and ensures that every woman has access to the care that she needs."
"Whether you're a teacher, or a small businesswoman, or a nurse or a janitor, no woman's health should depend on who she is or where she works or how much money she makes," Obama said during a press briefing in the White House. "Every woman should be in control of the decisions that affect her own health – period."
Reproductive healthcare groups and many Democrats were quick to welcome the compromise, noting that it retains women's access to free contraception services – one of chief complaints of the USCCB.
The bishops also reject the idea that, under the compromise, contraception services would be provided "as a part of the employer's policy, not as a separate rider."
GOP leaders, meanwhile, are lining up behind the bishops.
"The President should take up the Bishops’ offer to find a resolution that respects all Americans’ Constitutional rights," Michael Steel, spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), said in an email.
Behind Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, GOP leaders will move forward with legislation "that achieves that same goal," Steel said.