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As birth control flap goes on, who benefits most? Santorum? Obama?

The two sides are hardening their positions on contraception. The divide between many Catholics and bishops remains. And it’s raising questions over who benefits in the presidential election.

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Meanwhile, lines between the White House and the Catholic church hierarchy appear to be hardening.

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Archbishop Timothy Dolan, president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, initially called Obama’s latest move “a first step in the right direction.”

But in a statement Friday evening, the bishops said Obama's proposal "continues to involve needless government intrusion in the internal governance of religious institutions, and to threaten government coercion of religious people and groups to violate their most deeply held convictions."

"We will therefore continue – with no less vigor, no less sense of urgency – our efforts to correct this problem through the other two branches of government," the bishops said, meaning Congress and federal courts.

Three religious groups will continue to pursue their legal challenges to the government's regulation, despite Obama's announcement last week adjusting the policy in response to critics, Hannah Smith, a lawyer at the Beckett Fund for Religious Liberty, which represents the plaintiffs, told Reuters. The lawsuits, filed by two religious colleges and a Catholic television network, said the government violated their constitutional rights to freedom of speech and religion. Two were filed last year and the third was filed last week.

Some have charged that Obama’s adjusted policy – which says that religious institutions like hospitals, universities, and charities don’t have to include free birth control in health insurance plans for female employees but that insurance companies will be required under the Affordable Care Act to provide contraception to all employees at such institutions free of charge – amounts to “an accounting gimmick.”

The cost will just be passed back to those institutions, they say. But others note that contraception in the end costs insurance companies far less than birth delivery and pediatric services that might be avoided with the use of birth control.

"If you were looking at an actuarial projection of the cost of a plan, it costs more to provide a plan without than it does with. This is one of those very rare cases where it actually does not cost the insurance company money to do it," White House Chief of Staff Jacob Lew said on Fox News Sunday.

Mr. Lew reiterated the president’s "very deep belief that a woman has a right to all forms of preventive health care, including contraception,” and he said the administration has no intention of changing its policy despite the political firestorm it has caused.

"We have set out our policy," Lew said. "We are going to finalize it in the final rules, but I think what the president announced on Friday is a balanced approach that meets the concerns raised both in terms of access to health care and in terms of protecting religious liberties, and we think that's the right approach."

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