(CNN) - Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley of Maryland said Sunday that critics of a new federal health policy are overreacting to a statute that requires religious institutions to pay for contraceptives in their health insurance plans.
“There has been a little bit too much hyperventilating over this issue,” O’Malley said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
The new U.S. Department of Health and Human Services policy stirred an outcry this week, as it requires all employers - including religious institutions - to cover contraceptives such as the birth control pill and the so-called Plan B pill.
While churches are exempt, hospitals and schools with religious affiliations must comply. The new policy goes into effect on August 1, but religious groups will have a year-long extension to enforce the rule.
Catholics, whose teaching opposes abortion and the use of contraceptives, have especially railed against the plan.
Several Catholic clergy members have denounced the policy from the pulpit, while on the campaign trail, Newt Gingrich used it as a heavy attack line against President Barack Obama, saying the president has “declared war on religious freedom.”
But O’Malley, who identified himself as a Catholic, noted Sunday that 28 states already enforce such a policy.
“This is not about abortion, it's about covering contraception as part of the health care coverage - mandatory basic coverage,” O’Malley told CNN’s Chief Political Correspondent Candy Crowley.
He noted some European states with high Catholic populations have also mandated the coverage.
“These same rules apply in countries like Italy, which have overwhelming numbers of Catholics, and yet we did not see the reaction in those countries to these sorts of things,” he said.
The White House stood by the policy this week after House Speaker John Boehner said it violated the Constitution.
“This decision was made after very careful consideration of the legal and policy points and we believe it strikes the appropriate balance between respecting religious beliefs and approving access to services,” a senior administration official told reporters on a conference call Thursday afternoon.
Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell of Virginia, who also appeared on the CNN program, argued the policy was a “great expansion of federal government” and disrespected “individual religious views.”
Saying the policy would lead to “visceral negative reaction” against the Obama administration, McDonnell suggested more Catholic voters may swing to the GOP in November’s presidential election in response to the new policy.
– CNN's Ashley Killough contributed to this report.
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