Nightly News | February 09, 2012
>>> on the presidential campaign trail today, the issue of contraception and the catholic church took center stage once again in this fight that is becoming more and more heated. nbc's kelly o'donnell reports for us tonight from tulsa .
>> reporter: on the christian campus of oral roberts university in tulsa , oklahoma, today rick santorum declared faith is under attack from the obama administration.
>> but it's the catholic church first. it won't be the last if they get away with it.
>> reporter: the new rule, part of president obama 's health care reform would require religious-based employers like catholic-run hospitals, schools and charities to provide insurance coverage for birth control and emergency contraception that church teaching forbids. the political fire found more oxygen in washington today at an influential meeting of conservatives. cpac .
>> one thing is for certain. this he a tack on religious freedom cannot and will not stand.
>> don't let the immediate maters tell you about is about constant sepgs. this is a constitutional issue.
>> reporter: furious and fighting back, many democrats argue the rule is misunderstood.
>> it is time for the extreme right wing to stop playing political football with women's health.
>> reporter: personal feelings and party politics get complicated. ally of the president virginia democrat tim kaine told a radio station mr. obama got it wrong.
>> i expressed my grave concern to the white house about that.
>> reporter: some catholics say the church is out of step.
>> the bishops don't seem to realize that 98% of catholic women use contraceptives.
>> reporter: back at cpac , a much broader appetite for election year red meat . mitch mcconnell found a new label for democrats.
>> you know the drill. expose the folks to public view, release the liberal thugs on them and hope the public pressure or the unwanted attention scares them.
>> if it's halftime in america, i'm fearful of what the final score is going to be if we let the president start the second half as a quarterback.
>> reporter: it's the gop race that will star at that conference tomorrow. three of the candidates will address cpac . familiar ground for rick santorum and newt gingrich . for mitt romney , it will be a higher hurdle, trying to win the confidence of those most conservative republicans who have been so unsure about him this year.
>> kelly o'donnell in tulsa , oklahoma