WASHINGTON, D.C., July 20, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) - After the Institute of Medicine (IOM) this week publicly backed government-mandated birth control coverage, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) is standing in the breach against what would prove a massive victory for abortion giant Planned Parenthood.

The birth control question has sparked a rare spectacle as the two most influential lobbies on sexual health forcefully butt heads over an issue many other interest groups consider secondary.

Planned Parenthood immediately cheered the IOM report Tuesday, the result of a study commissioned by U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) and a critical leg-up for the abortion giant’s campaign.

“We’re so close to a monumental victory that will change the lives of millions of women,” wrote Planned Parenthood on Facebook, where the group simultaneously posted a new video of “Pillamina,” the foam-flanked mascot of the free birth control campaign.

The report recommended that artificial birth control, including the abortifacient morning-after pill and “ella” drug, would be counted as an essential “preventive service” that health insurers would be forced to completely cover under the new federal health care law.

Such a mandate would likely provide a major funding boost to Planned Parenthood, one of the nation’s leading birth control providers, especially as the group struggles against numerous state-level defunding efforts this year.

“Half of all pregnancies that happen in the U.S. every year are unintended, and if we could prevent an epidemic of this proportion, that should be justification enough that contraception is preventive care,” said Deborah Nucatola, Planned Parenthood’s senior director for medical services in a report on NPR’s health blog.

However, a statement from a leader in the U.S. bishops’ conference strongly challenged Planned Parenthood and the IOM report on the same day, criticizing the notion that sexual activity’s normal result is a malady in need of cure.

“Pregnancy is not a disease, and fertility is not a pathological condition to be suppressed by any means technically possible,” said Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, chairman of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Tuesday.

Like other conservative leaders, the USCCB pro-life chairman noted that the mandate would violate the conscience rights of Americans morally opposed to birth control, and objected to coverage of “emergency contraception” such as ella, a chemical functionally identical to the abortion drug RU-486.

But the cardinal’s challenge did not stop there: DiNardo noted that the IOM report was so radical as to have indicated interest in recommending full abortion coverage as well. The report stated that, “despite the health and well-being benefits to some women,” abortion was outside of the project’s scope given federal legal restrictions.

“But most Americans surely see that abortion is not healthy or therapeutic for unborn children, and has physical and mental health risks for women which can be extremely serious,” wrote the cardinal, who noted the celebration of Planned Parenthood, “the single largest abortion provider in the United States,” over the report.

“I can only conclude that there is an ideology at work in these recommendations that goes beyond any objective assessment of the health needs of women and children,” he said.