Florida senator and former presidential candidate, Marco Rubio says pregnant women with the Zika virus should not be able to get an abortion, despite the complications of microcephaly and birth defects resulting from the virus.
While acknowledging the divisive issue in an interview with Politico magazine, Rubio defended the Republican anti-abortion line, saying, “I understand a lot of people disagree with my view - but I believe that all human life is worthy of protection of our laws."
Within the context of Zika he said, “but if I'm going to err, I'm going to err on the side of life."
The mosquito-borne virus can cause microcephaly, a birth defect marked by unusually small head size, and can lead to severe brain abnormalities and developmental problems in babies.
Rubio admitted that Zika does pose a significant risk of birth defects, but said that does not affect his stance 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’s home state, Florida, has been hardest hit in the country by the virus and a state of emergency was declared over the spread of Zika earlier this year. The so-called Sunshine State was also one of the first places where the virus was transmitted locally via mosquitoes.
As of mid-June, the number of women infected with the Zika virus during their pregnancies in the continental United States has risen to 234, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
This is not the first time Rubio has made controversial comments about abortion. During his presidential campaign he said that he opposes abortion even in the case of rape or incest.
As for Zika, Rubio has voted for funding to combat the virus in Congress and was the first Republican to co-sponsor President Barack Obama's proposed $1.9 billion Zika legislation.
More than 1,800 cases have been reported in the States, most of whom traveled to Zika-affected countries and territories.
The virus has been reported in more than 30 countries and is linked with a surge in cases of microcephaly, an untreatable condition in which babies are born with abnormally small head and undeveloped brain.
Although the symptoms of the virus are relatively mild and only one in five persons exposed to it become ill, those who are experiencing fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (pink eye) have been strongly advised to seek immediate medical care.
Marco Rubio, the Florida senator who ran an unsuccessful campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, has said women infected with the Zika virus should be denied abortions.
The ban should apply even if a woman had reason to believe that her child would be born with severe microcephaly - a developmental disorder that can result from Zika infection.
"I understand 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," Rubio toldPolitico.
"But if I'm going to err, I'm going to err on the side of life."
Florida is the first state in the US in which cases have been discovered in people who have not travelled to countries confirmed to have been affected by the mosquito-borne Zika virus.
During his campaign for the White House, Rubio garnered strong support from Christian conservatives with his hard line on abortion.Rick Scott, Florida's Governor, said that 16 local cases had been identified in the state.
The Florida senator, who has decided to run for re-election, said he opposed abortion in all cases, including rape and incest.
"Obviously, microcephaly is a terrible prenatal condition that kids are born with," Rubio added.
"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. I believe all human life should be protected by our law, irrespective of the circumstances or condition of that life."
As a senator, Rubio has backed federal funding to tackle the Zika virus, successfully proposing a measure which allocated $1.1 billion to combat the disease.