WASHINGTON, January 31, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) - As a formidable tide of Christian opposition began rising this week, including at least 115 U.S. bishops, the nation’s leading abortion lobby is leaping to defend the Obama administration order that will force religious institutions to provide free birth control next year.

In an email Tuesday, NARAL Pro-Choice America president Nancy Keenan rallied supporters to combat the surge of opposition by “birth-control opponents” to what many have called an unprecedented challenge to the freedom of Christians who oppose abortion and birth control.

“Anti-choice lawmakers are so hostile to birth control that one representative called the new coverage policy ‘unrelated to the basic needs of health care.’ How is birth control not basic health care when 99 percent of women use it at some point in the lives?” wrote Keenan. Keenan was criticizing a bill to block the mandate introduced by Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), who decried the order as “a bailout for Planned Parenthood.”

The mandate, which includes abortifacient birth control such as Ella, only grants a narrow exception to religious insurers serving primarily members of their own sects, prompting U.S. bishops to decry the new regulations in the strongest terms. After Christians complained about the rule after it was announced last summer, Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius this month said that the rule would not change, but the HHS would give religious groups another year to comply.

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Thomas Peters of CatholicVote.org and the American Papist blog on Tuesday compiled a list of 115 Catholic bishops who have spoken out against the mandate, or “well over half” of the U.S. bishops who head dioceses. Peters also pointed to a video from the Green Bay diocese showing a congregation erupting in a standing ovation when called to oppose the new rule as an indicator of the reaction from Catholics in the pews to the mandate.

An official petition to the White House to rescind the rule has received over 4,200 signatures, a number that was rapidly rising on Tuesday as it started to go viral on Facebook.

At the U.S. Bishops’ media blog, communications director Sr. Mary Ann Walsh noted that, while trampling on Catholics, the government has accommodated even the Amish by not forcing them to purchase health insurance, which would violate their conscience.

“This egregious violation of religious freedom marks the first time in our history that the federal government is forcing religious people and groups to ante up for services that violate their consciences,” she wrote.

Walsh noted that the mandate echoed the scandal that erupted months ago when the HHS refused a long-standing anti-trafficking grant to U.S. bishops because their facilities do not refer for abortion.

“I suggested then that HHS had an ABC rule, ‘Anybody But Catholics,’” wrote Walsh. “Now I wonder if ABC isn’t also the answer to who gets freedom of religion.”

Click here to sign a petition to the White House to rescind the HHS mandate.