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She joins us now to talk more about this. Thank you for joining us, Secretary. Are you able to hear me?


LEMON: I think we have an issue. Can you hear me, Secretary?

SEBELIUS: I can now, yes.

LEMON: Thank you so much for joining us today. We appreciate this. Listen, the right has been calling this -- and many people who are -- who are religious here calling it a war on religion. Now after weeks of pressure from the president's rivals, you're changing your minds. Everyone sees this as a politically motivated decision. So why didn't you make this change two weeks ago when you first released this policy?

SEBELIUS: Well, actually, we did announce this opportunity to give religious leaders who currently don't offer contraception coverage an additional year, with the full intention of working with stakeholders, looking at what's happening on the ground with the various catholic institutions in the 28 states who currently offer contraception coverage, and figure out some arrangements that both fulfilled religious liberty and made sure that women had access to this very important preventive services.

We know that 99 percent of women across this country use contraception at some point in their lives. And if it's not as part of their insurance plan, they often are paying hundreds of dollars trying to get this very important health service.

So we announced, from the beginning, that we were going to work with stakeholders. The president, as he said today, given the furor and concern that has developed, just asked us to speed up the process. So we did. And we're pleased to announce that the final rule, which will be published later this afternoon, will include this important balance.

Women will have access, for the first time ever, regardless of where they work, to a critical preventive health benefit identified by the Institute of Medicine, used by 99 percent of the women, and we're respecting the religious freedom of employers who felt that they offering this service directly was in violation of their conscience. We think this is a very good solution moving forward.

LEMON: Secretary, here's a question, because, you know, many are seeing this as, OK, two weeks later the president, having to come back, clarify, walk back, revise, however you want to put it. And there was some concern, we are told, when all of the negotiations were going on and you were talking about it.

There were people who were saying, listen, for swing voters, for religious people, this may cost you some votes. It's going to be controversial. Was there anyone -- was there anyone who, during this time, threw their hands up and said, hey, listen, don't do this, this isn't going to work, we're going to get flak for this?

SEBELIUS: You know, certainly as this whole discussion unfolded, there were lots of viewpoints, lots of stakeholder input. Two hundred thousand comments that we received at our department. Lots of different views.

But at the end of the day, I think the president, and I felt very strongly, that two important principles had to be paramount. One, health benefits to women should not be determined by where she worked or what position she had or how much money she has. That goes on every day in America and that should not be what we're looking forward to in the future.

But, secondly, respecting religious liberty. That's why we said there would be an additional year. That's why we exempted from the outset churches and church-based organizations from this rule altogether. And I think, again, this is a solution that both meets the health mandates for women, the 99 percent of American women who use and access this benefit, and the religious principles of their employers. It's a solution that will make sure that women's preventive health benefits aren't determined by where she works in America any longer.

LEMON: Yes. So, listen, this is a very important issue and I could talk to you about it all day long here. We have a short amount of time here. And so I want to get this next question in, and answer.

A lot of catholic women take birth control, as the president mentioned. In fact, according to the study voted in the "Washington Post," and again, as the president said, about 95 percent of American Catholics say they have used contraceptives. Do you get the sense that the outrage over the original plan was manufactured to hurt the president politically with catholic voters?

SEBELIUS: Oh, I don't think that outside of some of the more cynical political folks who may be either on the campaign trail or inside the beltway, I think the -- a lot of the public outcry was urging us to find an appropriate balance.

Again, when we announced that we were going to finalize this rule, and that's really what we did. Two weeks ago we made a statement that the exemption would stay the same and that we would reach out to stakeholders over the course of a year and find a balance between religious objection and this very important health mandate.

The president said, you've got to speed up that process. And that's just what we're doing.

So, as of the end of today, the rule will be finalized. And, again, we look forward to a day where women can make their own decisions about their own health needs and those for their families and religious employers will be able to not violate what they see as religious objections to this particular service.

LEMON: Secretary Sebelius, thank you so much.

SEBELIUS: Sure. Great to be with you.


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