It’s not just Marco Rubio who opposes abortion rights for Zika-infected pregnant women, several of the nation’s largest pro-life organizations stand behind the controversial comments.
The Florida senator told Politico on Saturday that “a lot of people disagree with my view—but I believe that all human life is worthy of protection of our laws.”
“And when you present it in the context of Zika or any prenatal condition, it’s a difficult question and a hard one,” he said. “But if I’m going to err, I’m going to err on the side of life.”
His comments came shortly after the CDC confirmed local transmission of the tropical virus in Rubio’s home city of Miami, and a few weeks before he is expected to shake off the final serious Republican challenger for his Senate seat in the Florida primaries.
But although many were shocked by Rubio’s remarks, the incumbent GOP senator has near-universal support from the nation’s most notable abortion opponents.
“Senator Rubio is absolutely right,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, in a statement. “Zika should not be used as a springboard for a search-and-destroy mission against disabled babies.”
“Exactly right” were the words that Clarke Forsythe, acting president of Americans United for Life (AUL), used to describe Rubio’s position, adding: “We should value all human lives, refusing to devalue people based on prejudices against their mental or physical disabilities.”
American Life League (ALL) President Judie Brown told The Daily Beast, “We agree with Senator Rubio because regardless of the alleged condition confronting a preborn child, there is never a reason to kill that child.”
“Instead of killing human beings, born or unborn, because they have a disability, I would hope that this nation would extend mercy and compassion to them,” said Carol Tobias, president of the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC). “Kill the virus; kill the mosquito. Don’t kill the baby.”
This position puts pro-life leaders and Rubio at odds with the majority of Americans, according to the results of a recent STAT-HARVARD poll.
Fifty-nine percent of respondents to that poll said that women should be able to have an abortion after 24 weeks in the event of Zika-related microcephaly, which can result in small head size and brain underdevelopment. This includes many Americans who would otherwise support 24-week-bans, like the majority of the 48 percent of Republicans who said they would be willing to make an exception for Zika.
That willingness is largely due to the high emotional and financial cost of the condition. In many cases, microcephaly severely limits a child’s life expectancy. And CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden has estimated that lifetime health care costs for a microcephalic child can fall between $1 and $10 million. According to the CDC, 15 children in the U.S. have been born with Zika-related defects so far.
These potential consequences issue are no longer hypothetical for Rubio’s constituents. The CDC recently warned pregnant women not to travel to a small neighborhood in Miami to prevent that number from climbing higher.
But even with Zika at his doorstep, Rubio is toeing the pro-life line.
“Obviously, microcephaly is a terrible prenatal condition that kids are born with,” he told Politico. “And when they are, it’s a lifetime of difficulties. 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.”
Rubio’s tough stance does not come as a surprise given his record on the issue. Once hailed by TIME as the “Republican Savior” and repeatedly referred to as a “moderate” in news coverage of his political campaigns, Rubio has been anything but moderate when it comes to abortion.
“There [are] pure logical public policy reasons why abortion is bad for America, bad for our society, and bad for our people, and why Roe v. Wade should be overturned,” he continued.
In Congress, Rubio has supported bills that would ban abortion after 20 weeks and require fetal ultrasounds for women seeking to end a pregnancy. And although he has voted for abortion restrictions that contains rape and incest exceptions, Rubio was careful to tell Chuck Todd on Meet the Press last year, “What I’ve never done is said I require that [legislation] must have or not have exceptions.”
In the aftermath of Rubio’s remarks, pro-life groups told The Daily Beast that lawmakers should focus on Zika prevention efforts instead of abortion.
“The best way to confront the Zika virus is preventive,” Forsythe told The Daily Beast. “Deal with the public health needs, eradicate the mosquitoes causing the infections with an active campaign to educate people about addressing mosquito-borne infections.”
“American scientific research should be focused on a vaccine to prevent Zika rather than focusing on the killing of the innocent preborn,” Brown agreed.
As Politico noted, Rubio has indeed been vocal in his support of Zika prevention, asking fellow Republicans to take preventative funding more seriously in June and calling for emergency legislation in early August after the Miami outbreak. But so far, federal funding packages have stalled and Congress remains on summer vacation.
But although Rubio was willing to break rank with the GOP over Zika prevention, but he’s still a rank-and-file abortion opponent.
“[T]here is going to be, for lack of a better term, a total freak out in the United States about what we are going to do,” Rubio warned Congress in June.