WASHINGTON, D.C., November 23, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) - Pro-abortion advocates are in a fury - and pro-life Democrats hopeful - after recent reports that president Obama may accede to calls from Catholic Church leaders to expand the religious exemption to the new birth control insurance mandate.

Catholic and pro-life advocates were stunned this August when federal health officials announced a new mandate under the 2010 health care reform law requiring virtually all insurers to cover the entire cost of contraceptives and sterilizations as essential “preventive care.” Included among FDA-approved “contraceptives” are early-abortion drugs such as ella, a drug virtually identical to abortion drug RU-486.

The mandate’s “religious employer” exemption was limited only to institutions serving primarily members of their own sect, a definition experts called dramatically narrower than any other in the history of federal conscience laws.

In the ensuing comments period, thousands of concerned Catholics were urged to contact the Health and Human Services Department to oppose the narrow conscience protection. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in August declared that the mandate violated First-Amendment rights to religious freedom, as well as federal law that forbids coercing health providers to perform abortions.

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But Robert Pear of the New York Times says that the administration may be reconsidering the narrow exemption, and claimed Obama is even drawing fire from Congressional abortion advocates over the matter. According to Pear, the mandate came up during a meeting of Obama with USCCB president Archbishop Timothy Dolan. Dolan came away from that meeting stating that the president appeared “very open to the sensitivities of the Catholic community.”

The final rule will reportedly be announced shortly.

Abortion advocates such as Planned Parenthood and Emily’s List responded forcefully to the news, urging members to tell Obama not to listen to “ideologues opposed to contraception” who would “take away birth control coverage from millions of women.” By not forcing Catholic employers to pay for birth control, RH Reality Check editor-in-chief Jodi Jacobson warned, Obama would be “trading the health, welfare, autonomy, and economic prospects of millions of women” to “curry favor with a very small minority of male-dominated religious right groups ... which has found that it can not, on its own, force women to become and remain pregnant.”

Meanwhile, pro-life Democrats, who have lately been beleaguered by other pro-life leaders for supporting the federal health care law, say the potential shift shows common sense will win the day.

Democrats for Life of America (DFLA) executive director Kristen Day said that the Obama administration “has no intention” of forcing Catholic institutions to cover birth control.

“The Administration is already unfairly under attack by Catholic conservatives who are using the proposed final rule to spread anti-Obama sentiment to lay Catholics,” said Day in a press release Sunday. “The Administration has no intention of forcing Catholic institutions to provide insurance coverage for services that are directly in opposition to their moral beliefs. It does not make any sense from a public policy perspective and it certainly is not smart politically to alienate Catholic voters.”

DFLA notes that the health care bill itself calls for the contraceptive mandate, but proposed to allow employers opposing “certain types of birth control,” such as abortifacient drugs, to be exempt.

Former Pennsylvania Congresswoman Kathy Dahlkemper (D-PA), who lost her seat in the tidal wave of Democrat House losses after she voted for the bill, said she “would have never voted for the final version of the bill if I expected the Obama Administration to force Catholic hospitals and Catholic colleges and universities to pay for contraception.” “I trust that the President will honor the commitment he made to those of us who supported final passage,” she added.