While candidates in the Republican nominee race continue to launch blistering attacks against one another more than a month into the voting season, their ultimate political enemy in the November presidential election notched up another achievement to his scoreboard.

On Friday afternoon, Mr. Obama said his administration would seek to amend the original contraception policy envisioned in his 2010 groundbreaking healthcare reform package with a compromise that would aim to please both Catholic Church leaders and his liberal base of supporters.

Mr. Obama, who doubtless hoped to end months of protracted negotiations between the White House and conservative leaders opposed to Church funding for contraceptive care for its employees, said under the amended rule insurance companies would be required to directly provide contraceptive services free of cost.

“Every woman should be in control of the decisions that affect her own health,” Mr. Obama said at a briefing, however adding, “But if a woman's employer is a charity or a hospital that has a religious objection to providing contraceptive services as part of their health plan, the insurance company... will be required to reach out and offer the woman contraceptive care free of charge, without co-pays and without hassles.”

While the President is likely to tout this amendment as a bipartisan compromise conservatives in the nominee race were quick to denounce the move.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who is Catholic, described the policy as “the Obama administration's attack on the Catholic Church;” former Senator from Pennsylvania Rick Santorum, another Catholic, characterised the Obama administration as trying to “use their power to force people” to violate their beliefs; and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, who is usually attacked by conservatives for his positions on both religious and healthcare-related issues, called the policy an “assault on religion... and a real blow ... to our friends in the Catholic faith.”

The White House hit back at Mr. Romney in particular, with Spokesman Jay Carney saying it was “ironic that Mitt Romney is criticising the President” for a policy that Mr. Carney said was identical to the one Mr. Romney established as Massachusetts Governor.

At the heart of the debate is the question of whether the amended rule will in fact result in insurance companies bearing the full cost of providing contraceptive services to the employee in question, or whether that cost might be ultimately passed on to the employer.

Also of relevance to the debate is the nationwide opinion on the fiercely contested subject of the role of religion in private life. A Fox News poll released Friday was said to show that 61 per cent of Americans approve of requiring employer health plans to cover birth control for women and 34 per cent disapprove.

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