(Photo: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)
White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew appeared on four separate talk shows Sunday and said that the change to the birth control mandate offered by President Barack Obama on Friday should put the issue to rest. Republicans Rick Santorum and Paul Ryan, however, criticized Obama's proposal as not a genuine compromise.
Obama's proposal would require insurance companies to provide birth control, including contraception, sterilization and abortifacient drugs, to women for free if they work at a religious organization that has moral objections to those services.
The proposal, Lew said on "Fox News Sunday," "is consistent with where [Obama] has been all along. He has a very deep belief [in] every woman's right to all forms of preventive health care, including contraception. He also has a very deep belief that it's one of the core principles of our country that we have to respect religious liberties that this country is built upon. The solution that we reached is consistent with those core principles."
Lew argued that the provision of free care would not cost the insurance companies more money because, in the long run, providing those services would save money.
"When you look at the overall cost of caring for a woman, it doesn't raise the cost of the plan."
"Here is the concern that some religious institutions have," "Fox News Sunday" host Chris Wallace said. "The reason that you're going to get these 'savings' is because of avoided pregnancies from artificial birth control which is the practice that these religious institutions find objectionable, and in fact sinful, in the first place."
"Let's just be clear," Lew answered, "every woman has a right to access to all forms of preventive health, including contraception."
The term "preventive health" is usually used to refer to the prevention of illness. While birth control pills are sometimes prescribed for an illness, Lew is also talking about the prevention, or termination, of pregnancy.
When asked if there could be further changes to the policy, Lew answered, "Our policy is clear." And, "we have set out our policy."
In all of Lew's Sunday interviews, he equated "access" to contraception with the provision of free contraception mandated by the federal government. He also accused Republicans who opposed the policy of trying to deny women "access" to contraception.
"No one is denying [women] access to birth control. This is outrageous," Republican presidential candidate Santorum said Sunday on "Meet the Press." "The bottom line is that you have the federal government saying, 'we're going to give you a right, then, by the way, we're going to tell you how to exercise that right.'"
"There is no compromise here," Santorum added. "They're forcing religious organizations, either directly or indirectly to pay for something that they find is a deeply morally wrong thing and this is not what the government should be doing."
Rep. Ryan (R-Wis.), chair of the House Budget Committee, agreed.
"This thing is a distinction without a difference. It's an accounting gimmick or a fig leaf. It's not a compromise. The president has doubled down. ... They're treating our constitutional First Amendment rights as revokable privileges from our government, not as inalienable rights from our creator."
Lew suggested in his interviews that Obama had all along planned to modify his birth control mandate. Liberal columnist E.J. Dionne saw it differently.
The White House "had warning for months and months and months that they had to be careful about this because even liberal Catholics like me who are not against contraception felt there was a legitimate religious liberty argument here and you could find ways of providing contraception for women without having Church based institutions paying for them," Dionne said Sunday on ABC's "This Week."
Dionne agrees with Obama's proposal, but believes that the process left him in a poor position politically.
"They came to the right place, but this solution was available to them months and months ago and they seemed to reject it and I think they hurt themselves in the process even if I'm glad he came around to the right decision."
Dionne also said that Obama needs remember the respect for religious differences that he has shown in the past, such as his 2009 speech at Notre Dame, a Catholic university.
"I still think the administration has to look back and say, how did it lose track of that Obama who was so open on religious questions in 2006 and 2009, in the Notre Dame speech? They've got to find that guy again."