About a week later, priests read letters from bishops in churches across the nation, expressing their concerns.
Republicans soon pounced. GOP presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich accused the president of an attack on religion. Congressional Republicans announced plans to overturn the policy.
The White House began hearing from generally supportive outsiders as well.
Commentators such as E.J. Dionne and Mark Shields jumped on Obama for displaying a tin ear to Catholic concerns.
Former Indiana congressman and ambassador Tim Roemer and other moderate Democrats spoke out. Among the organizations that mobilized was Democrats for Life of America.
"It became apparent that this was not going to be something that was just going to lose steam," said Kristen Day, the group's executive director. "The ranks were actually increasing rather than decreasing."
Former Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., said he and Roemer offered the perspective of two lawmakers who had represented conservative Democratic districts.
Stupak said he wondered, "Why would you pick this fight in an election year? In any year, to tell you the truth."
"At first they were sort of cool: 'We know what we're doing, we'll get it resolved,'" Stupak said of the White House. "Toward the end, in the last week, it was more like, 'We're working on it, we've heard you. We'll get this thing behind us.'"
Several Democrats broke publicly with the president. Former Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, a recent chairman of the Democratic National Committee, said the White House "made a bad decision."
Even as pressure mounted, Democrats supporting access to contraceptives pushed to make sure the White House didn't retreat.
For New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and other Democratic women in the Senate, their last opportunity to make their case came Wednesday, when the president took his motorcade to Nationals Stadium in Washington to meet with Senate Democrats.
Obama offered no hint an announcement was two days away, but under questioning he offered an assurance.
"He said to all of us that he was committed to the principle that women should have access to that contraceptive coverage," Shaheen said.
That same day, administration officials including senior adviser Valerie Jarrett and the first lady's chief of staff, Tina Tchen, convened a meeting with women's groups at the White House to urge more women to speak out in support of the president's decision, a Democratic official said.
Participants discussed reframing the debate as less about the Catholic Church and more about a war on women, the official said, insisting on anonymity to discuss the private meeting.
By then it was already becoming clear that Obama would have to change course. Some 48 hours later, he stepped before the microphones in the White House briefing room to announce that he was.
Associated Press writers Jim Kuhnhenn, Julie Pace, Ken Thomas, Ben Feller and Rachel Zoll contributed to this report.
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