Santorum Challenges Policy on Prenatal Testing

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By Tom Cohen, CNN

WASHINGTON (CNN) — The government should never require health care providers to fully cover the cost of prenatal testing such as amniocentesis, which can determine the possibility of Down syndrome or other problems in the fetus, Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum said Sunday.

In particular, amniocentesis “more often than not” results in abortion, said Santorum, a strident anti-abortion politician, on the CBS program “Face the Nation.”

“People have the right to do it but to have the government force people to provide it free, to me, is a bit loaded,” Santorum said in arguing against what he called a mandate in the health care reform bill passed by President Barack Obama and Democrats in 2010.

Santorum was responding to questions about comments he made the day before at a Christian Alliance luncheon in Columbus, Ohio, in which he said the mandate in the health care law was intended to increase abortions and reduce overall health care costs.

“One of the mandates is they require free prenatal testing in every insurance policy in America,” Santorum said. “Why? Because it saves money in health care. Why? Because free prenatal testing ends up in more abortions and therefore less care that has to be done, because we cull the ranks of the disabled in our society.”

In the Ohio remarks, Santorum added the mandate was “another hidden message as to what President Obama thinks of those who are less able.”

The White House referred CNN to Obama’s re-election campaign for comment, and campaign spokeswoman Lis Smith called Santorum’s remarks “the latest in a long string of unfortunate comments in the race to the bottom that the Republican presidential primary has become.”

“Prenatal screenings are essential to promote the health of both the mother and baby and to ensure safe deliveries,” Smith said. “These misinformed and dangerous comments reinforce why women cannot trust any of the Republican candidates for president.”

On Sunday, Santorum mentioned his own experience with this 3-year-old daughter Isabella, who has Trisomy 18, a chromosome disorder that often results in stillbirths or early childhood death. He said prenatal testing showed the problem, and doctors recommend abortion in virtually all cases.

Such a recommendation is common when any problem is detected through amniocentesis, said Santorum, who added that in such cases “we know that 90% of Down syndrome children are aborted.”

Continuing his attack on Obama, Santorum said the president voted against a ban on late-term abortion when he was an Illinois senator and had “a very bad record on the issue of abortion and children who are disabled who are in the womb.”

The comments continued a series of controversial remarks Santorum has made since surging to the top tier of polls in the Republican presidential race in recent weeks.

Now considered the main conservative challenger to the more moderate Mitt Romney, Santorum has shed a more understated demeanor to challenge both Romney and Obama as the Republican campaign heads toward a series of key primaries in coming weeks, including Super Tuesday on March 6.

Also on Saturday in Columbus, Santorum appeared to raise questions about Obama’s adherence to Bible-based Christian theology in comments that Obama campaign spokesman Robert Gibbs said went “well over the line.”

Santorum said Saturday the president was not motivated by the quality of life of Americans.

“It’s not about your job. It’s about some phony ideal, some phony theology,” Santorum said. “Oh, not a theology based on the Bible, a different theology. But no less a theology.”

Later asked by reporters about the remark, Santorum said he was trying to say Obama merely holds “different moral values.”

“You may want to call it a theology, you may want to call it secular values,” he said. “Whatever you want to call it. . . it is a different set of moral values that they are imposing on people who have a constitutional right to have their own values within the church.”

Obama has reached a “low in this country’s history of oppressing religious freedom that we have never seen before,” Santorum said.

Gibbs, appearing Sunday on the ABC program “This Week,” said Santorum’s comments continued the kind of character attacks that he noted have characterized the Republican presidential race so far.

“I think that if you make comments like that, you make comments that are well over the line,” Gibbs said. “I think this GOP primary, in many cases …. has been a race to the bottom. We have seen nastiness, divisiveness, ugliness, distortions of opponents’ records, of the president’s records.”

The negative tone of the campaign was hurting the Republican candidates and causing low turnout numbers in some of the primaries so far, Gibbs added.

“It’s just time to get rid of this mindset in our politics that, if we disagree, we have to question character and faith,” Gibbs said. “Those days have long passed in our politics. Our problems and our challenges are far too great.”

Asked Sunday on the CBS program about his comments Saturday regarding Obama’s theology, Santorum said he was referring specifically to the president’s energy policies that favored what he called radical environmentalism.

He complained that “radical environmentalists” instead believe that “man is here to serve the Earth, as opposed to husband its resources and be a good steward of the Earth.”

“We’re not here to serve the Earth. The Earth is not the objective. Man is the objective,” Santorum said.

Asked specifically if he was questioning Obama’s Christian beliefs, Santorum said: “I wasn’t suggesting the president is not a Christian. I accept the fact the president is a Christian.”

Instead, he said he was taking on what he called “an attempt to centralize power in the government.”

“I’m talking about the belief that man should be in charge of the Earth,” Santorum said, and then in specific reference to Obama: “I am talking about his worldview and the way he approaches problems in this country.”

The issues raised by Santorum follow another religious-themed controversy over the Obama administration’s decision to require church-affiliated hospitals and other institutions to provide employees with health care coverage for contraception.

Catholic bishops vehemently opposed the move, and the administration changed its rule to require health care insurers to provide free coverage for contraception rather than the churches or other religious-based institutions.

Santorum’s comments may appeal to some Republican voters who have questioned Obama’s faith before, or others who saw the administration’s recent contraception mandate as an overreach.

Last month, Santorum was criticized by some for not correcting a voter who called the president a Muslim when she stood up to ask a question at one of his campaign town halls.

On Sunday, Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels, who flirted with a presidential bid last year, told the CNN program “State of the Union” that the contraception issue could benefit Republicans if properly approached.

“These are the questions that I think Republicans can unite on,” Daniels said. “They do have to be framed, as they really are, as the defense of individual freedom against the right now limitless power of the state.”

— CNN’s Chris Welch, Athena Jones, Ashley Killough and Gregory Wallace contributed to this report.