WASHINGTON (AP) -- A political adviser to President Barack Obama said Tuesday the administration didn't intend to "abridge anyone's religious freedom" with its regulation requiring church-affiliated employers to cover birth control for their workers.
"This is an important issue. It's important for millions of women around the country," said Axelrod, the political adviser to Obama's re-election campaign. "We want to resolve it in an appropriate way and we're going to do that."
Roman Catholic leaders have assailed Obama and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius for the new rule, arguing that it tramples on their religious beliefs. Religious groups that oppose the regulation say that it forces people of faith to choose between upholding church doctrine and serving the broader society.
In an interview Tuesday broadcast on MSNBC, Axelrod said, "I'm less concerned about the messaging of this than finding a resolution that makes sense." He noted that these institutions have roughly a year and a half to comply with the new regulation, saying "I think we need to lower our voices and get together."
At the same time, Axelrod acknowledged the dispute has caused a rift between the White House and the Roman Catholic Church.
"We have great respect for the work that these institutions do, and we certainly don't want to abridge anyone's religious freedom," he said. But Axelrod also said the administration was struggling to strike a balance between a stance that "guarantees women the preventive care they need" and one which respects the prerogatives of religious institutions.
"There are tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of women who work in these universities who are not Catholic," he said. "The question is whether they're going ... to have the same access to basic preventive care."
Axelrod said Sebelius had acted on a recommendation by the Institute of Medicine's recommendation and that she exempted churches themselves from the rule. Asked if the White House had consulted religious leaders before acting, he replied, "The bottom line is, this was a decision made with the interest of the health of millions around this country in mind."
Axelrod accused Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney of seeking to "turn it into a kind of political football," saying he considered Romney's stance "ironic" because the former Massachusetts governor led a state that has a similar policy.