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WASHINGTON, February 10, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Responses from Catholic leaders ranged from concerned to outraged following the Obama administration’s latest rewording of the birth control mandate in an effort to stem criticism over its impact on religious freedom.

U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops president Timothy Dolan gave a cautious response in a statement Friday, saying that the conference “sees initial opportunities” in preserving religious freedom after the announcement, but “continues to express concerns.”

“Today’s decision to revise how individuals obtain services that are morally objectionable to religious entities and people of faith is a first step in the right direction,” said Dolan, who added that the bishops “hope to work with the Administration” towards a solution.

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Although the president claimed that religious employers “will not have to pay for” contraception, the new phrasing still leaves essentially the same mandate intact: instead of directly paying for contraception, religious employers will simply be forced to foot the premium bill for employees receiving free contraception through their insurance.

Bill Donohue of the Catholic League was more direct in his criticism, saying the rewording of the mandate merely “adds insult to injury.”

“If the insurance plan of a Catholic institution must cover services it deems immoral, then such a healthcare plan is offensive, plain and simple,” said Donohue in a statement Friday. “When it comes to the First Amendment, there is no such thing as a half loaf.”

The Cardinal Newman Society, a Catholic higher education watchdog group, notes that Obama’s announcement means Catholic colleges and universities “will still be compelled under the force of law to pay for [birth control] coverage for their students and employees if they offer a health plan,” something they called “unacceptable and unconscionable.”

Thomas Peters, a prominent Catholic blogger with CatholicVote.org and the American Papist blog, said the rule also fails to protect the rights of faith-based insurance companies.

“The administration clearly wants to ‘balance’ this issue – by removing any semblance of balance whatsoever,” he told LifeSiteNews.com.

Meanwhile, the family planning lobby celebrated the announcement as proof of President Obama’s commitment to universal coverage for birth control.

“The Obama administration’s policy will make sure women of all faiths who work at religiously affiliated hospitals, universities, and service organizations will get contraceptive coverage,” wrote NARAL Pro-Choice America president Nancy Keenan in an email to supporters.

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