Oh my: White House having second thoughts on new contraception rule?

How dangerous is this for them? Dangerous enough that even Chris Matthews, who was last seen praising Obama’s beatific smile as worth 10 points in the booth this November, is talking about how “frightening” it is that the state might start dictating to churches in matters of conscience. If they’ve got Tingles saying stuff like that, imagine what undecided religious voters are thinking.

A key White House adviser on faith issues said Tuesday that several organizations with ties to the administration have approached President Obama’s aides about finding a resolution to fast-growing controversy over a new rule requiring many Catholic institutions to offer birth control and other contraception services as part of employees’ health care coverage.

“There are conversations right now to arrange a meeting to talk with folks about how this policy can be nuanced,” said Pastor Joel C. Hunter, a Florida megachurch pastor who has grown personally close to Obama and advised his White House on religious issues. “This is so fixable, and we just want to get into the conversation.”…

One possible compromise was introduced as early as last October, long before the issue hit the national headlines, when one of Obama’s outside advisers drafted a plan that would have allowed women working for Catholic institutions to receive coverage directly from insurers rather than from the objecting institutions themselves.

Carney said this afternoon that they “will be working with those organizations and individuals who have concerns” on implementing the new policy before it goes into effect next year, but Axelrod was a bit stronger this morning in the MSNBC clip you’ll find below. Quote: “We certainly don’t want to abridge anyone’s religious freedoms, so we’re going to look for a way to move forward that both provides women with the preventive care that they need and respects the prerogatives of religious institutions.” As with Komen and Planned Parenthood, I’m surprised the White House is as surprised as it seems to be about the backlash it’s getting. The thinking, I assume, was that they could get away with it because, as Ed notes in his new column, Catholics just aren’t that socially conservative. Fifty-four percent of them voted for The One in 2008; meanwhile, in today’s new PRRI poll on the contraception issue, 58 percent of Catholics thought all employers should cover birth control in their health plans at no cost and 52 percent thought that policy should extend to religiously-affiliated employers. (Among Catholic voters specifically, though, the split was 45/52.) If there was nothing else happening to keep the issue cooking, it might have faded before election day. I think Team O might have been caught off-guard by the intensity and uniformity of the pushback from Catholic bishops, though, especially since they’re used to getting cover from many of them on other Democratic agenda items like immigration. And of course, Romney went after this issue hard and will probably be pressed by Santorum into going after it harder still. That’s a risky simultaneous surge of political demand and supply for the White House, so here comes the climbdown.

Exit question from Ace’s co-blogger Laura W: Why did Catholic organizations support ObamaCare in the first place when they knew there was a risk that it would force conflicts of conscience like this one? Did they think it didn’t matter how other groups were burdened so long as they themselves got a pass?

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