He appeared to have made progress, winning over the Catholic hospital association and Catholic Charities - although not the nation's bishops - and reassuring wavering Democrats while keeping the support of groups such as Planned Parenthood.
Under the new plan, administration officials believe insurers will comply because the coverage may not actually cost them anything. Evidence suggests providing birth-control coverage reduces overall costs for health plans because birth control is much cheaper than pregnancy, according to administration officials and some health-industry analysts.
The fact that the compromise had not been proposed earlier angered the president, who felt let down by his staff, officials said. Obama waded into the details of the dispute himself this week and personally crafted the solution, according to a Democratic official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive matter.
From the beginning, the fight over the requirement that all health plans offer free birth-control coverage was animated by politics, deeply held beliefs, and the personalities of the people involved. Several prominent members of the president's team, including Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, argued strongly for the president's commitment to make contraceptives available to everyone.
But since November, others in Obama's circle had issued warnings of political trouble ahead. That month, chief of staff Bill Daley, who is Catholic, asked Obama to sit down with New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan, head of the bishops' conference, to talk about the impending contraceptives mandate.
According to Democratic officials with knowledge of the conversations, some policy experts and lawyers in the White House felt the administration should not compromise because no birth-control mandate would win the bishops' support.
Obama ultimately agreed with that position and signed off on the rule announced in late January, exempting churches and other houses of worship from the mandate but requiring religiously affiliated employers such as schools and hospitals to make sure their employees had contraception coverage.
But even as he made calls to Dolan and Sister Carol Keehan, head of the Catholic Health Association, to explain the initial policy just before it was announced, Obama emphasized that changes could be made during the year before the mandate takes effect.
The bishops responded angrily and publicly to the policy, putting the administration on the defensive. Republicans soon joined the chorus, as did some Catholic Democrats in Congress. As the dispute grew louder and more threatening over the last week, Obama decided to move quickly to tamp down the problem, a senior administration official said.
Announcing the change Friday at the White House, Obama said he had always been sensitive to the concerns about religious liberty, telling reporters, "We live in a pluralistic society where we're not going to agree on every single issue or share every belief."
His words quickly won the support he was looking for. "The framework developed has responded to the issues we identified that needed to be fixed," said Keehan, who supported Obama's effort to pass a health-care overhaul but who had opposed the birth-control mandate.
Obama also won over a range of prominent Catholics who had criticized the policy, including Douglas W. Kmiec, his former ambassador to Malta; and E.J. Dionne, a columnist and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
Planned Parenthood announced its approval. Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said the decision showed "President Obama is firmly committed to protecting women's health."
Others remained opposed or on the sidelines. The bishops have not embraced the plan. A spokesman for America's Health Insurance Plans, the insurance industry's Washington lobbying arm, expressed reservations about the president's proposal, while noting that health plans had long offered contraception coverage.
"We are concerned about the precedent this proposed rule would set," Robert Zirklebach said.