Jun 18, 2012 3:55 PM by CNN
The Obama administration's key Catholic ally on its controversial plan to require health insurers to provide free contraceptive coverage is dropping support for the plan, potentially complicating the president's relations with Catholics in an election year.
The Catholic Health Association, which comprises 2,000 Catholic hospitals, health systems and related organizations, said Friday that although it had initially supported what the White House called a compromise on the contraception issue, it is now "deeply concerned" about the plan and says the White House "has not relieved our initial concerns."
Many Catholic groups expressed opposition to the Obama administration's proposal to require employers to provide free contraception coverage to their employees. Although the plan exempted churches, other religiously affiliated employers - including colleges and hospitals - were not exempt.
In the face of that opposition, the Department of Health and Human Services tweaked its original rule in February to require health insurers, not employers, to cover the cost of contraception coverage, reasoning that would prevent Catholics instructions from having to finance such coverage.
The so-called compromise won support from certain Catholic groups, most significantly the Catholic Health Association, which calls itself the nation's largest group of nonprofit health care providers.
"The Catholic Health Association is very pleased with the White House announcement that a resolution has been reached that protects the religious liberty and conscience rights of Catholic institutions," Sister Carol Keehan, president and chief executive officer of the Catholic Health Association, said in a February statement.
But on Friday, the Catholic Health Association sounded a much different line, saying in a letter to the agency that "We remain deeply concerned ... with the approach the Administration has taken with respect to contraceptive services, especially abortifacient drugs and sterilization."
The administration denies that its contraception mandate covers abortifacients - drugs that cause abortions - but some socially conservative groups disagree.
In its letter, the Catholic Health Association urged the administration to broaden its exemption on the contraceptive mandate to include different kinds of religiously affiliated institutions.
The American Roman Catholic bishops have steadfastly criticized the Health and Human Services rule. The Catholic Health Association's support for the rule gave the Obama some Catholic political cover in the face of such attacks.
Catholic voters represent one of the largest swing voting blocs in the nation, voting with the winning presidential candidate in every election since the 1970s.