Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said that pregnant woman infected with the Zika virus should not be able to get an abortion despite concerns about microcephaly and birth defects resulting from the virus. The World Health Organization declared the Zika outbreak, which has spread across Latin America and in Caribbean nations, an international health emergency on Feb. 1.
"I understand a lot of people disagree with my view - but I believe that all human life is worthy of protection of our laws," Rubio said in an interview with Politico. "And when you present it in the context of Zika or any prenatal condition, it's a difficult question and a hard one. But if I'm going to err, I'm going to err on the side of life."
Rubio's comments came as Florida, his home state, became the hardest hit in America so far by the mosquito-borne disease. In the end of July, authorities in Florida reported what they believe to be the first local Zika transmission in the continental U.S., with the state’s current total case count at 16. So far, more than 1,800 cases have been reported in the U.S., largely from travel to foreign countries where the virus is prevalent. Zika, which was previously only known to cause moderate cold and flu-like symptoms, is now causing multiple neurological disorders, as well as microcephaly in babies. Microcephaly is a condition that causes babies to be born with abnormally small heads.
Rubio admitted that Zika does pose a significant risk of birth defects, but the risk does not change his opinion on abortion.
"Obviously, microcephaly is a terrible prenatal condition that kids are born with. And when they are, it's a lifetime of difficulties," he said. "So I get it. I'm not pretending to you that that's an easy question you asked me. But I'm pro-life. And I'm strongly pro-life. I believe all human life should be protected by our law, irrespective of the circumstances or condition of that life."
Rubio is the first Republican to co-sponsor President Obama’s $1.9 billion Zika legislation to combat the virus. But ultimately the bill did not pass.
Zika virus, which was first identified in 1947 in a rhesus monkey in Uganda, was initially detected in humans in 1952. The Zika virus is primarily transmitted by mosquitoes — specifically, mosquitoes from the Aedes genus, which also transmit yellow fever, dengue, chikungunya. There is no vaccine or medicine for Zika.