Pope tells Obama of concern for 'religious freedom' in the U.S.
President Barack Obama and Pope Francis react as they exchange gifts during a private audience at Vatican City on Thursday. (REUTERS/Gabriel Bouys/ Pool)
Catholic and other religious groups say the mandate forces them to support contraception and sterilisation in violation of their religious beliefs or face steep fines.
Just this week the U.S. Supreme Court signalled it may allow corporations to mount religious objections to government action, possibly paving the way for companies to avoid covering employees' birth control as required under Obamacare.
There is an exception for religious institutions such as houses of worship that mainly serve and employ members of their own faith, but not schools, hospitals and charitable organizations employing people of all faiths.
The subject was raised when Obama met then-Pope Benedict in 2009, when the president promised to do everything he could to reduce the number of abortions.
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