When asked by a reporter whether he thought a woman infected with the Zika virus should terminate her pregnancy, Sen. Marco Rubio recently replied that while he recognized that this was a "difficult question," he thought we should "err on the side of life."
Rubio's measured statement provoked a flurry of scathing political attacks on his character and his judgment. But amid all the hysteria and the vitriol, we've lost sight of one important fact.
Marco Rubio is right.
Before we explore why, it's important to acknowledge the anxiety Floridians are feeling about Zika. A virus first discovered in 1947 in Uganda has become a very real public health threat to Florida in 2016. The federal government's response has been ponderous and bureaucratic, and aggressive solutions like the use of genetically modified mosquitoes is being slow-walked by the Food and Drug Administration. This issue remains a textbook example of how federal control and preemption shuts down the ability of states to creatively and flexibly respond to a crisis.
The arrival of the Zika virus and its ability to cause severe microcephaly in infants born to some infected pregnant women has once again pushed the issue of abortion back into the public spotlight. The debate isn't surprising, but what is surprising and what should deeply disturb everyone is the cavalier suggestion that abortion should be the default option for a pregnant woman infected with the Zika virus.
This argument, of course, is part of a broader political agenda, an agenda that believes in abortion on demand in all cases. The adherents to this agenda utter the phrase "a woman's right to choose" with the same intensity and fervor one usually associates with ISIS members reciting the Koran. They will brook no dissent. If you do not accept the absoluteness of their position, they will attack your character and your intelligence, and you will be labeled as being "anti-woman."
But this remains a small, radicalized movement. Most Floridians, regardless of their religious background or their position on the legal status of abortion, are uncomfortable with the practice of abortion. They recognize that but for an abortion a fetus will continue to grow, develop and be born into the world. They recognize that this is an issue with profound physical and emotional consequences. They recognize that this is an issue of life and death.
So the idea that abortion should be used as the default recourse in the case of a Zika infection should disturb all Floridians of good conscience. It is an argument rooted in the unacceptable and un-American notion that some lives matter more than others. As our understanding of genetics expands and our ability to monitor and test fetal development increases, abortion threatens to become the slippery slope that leads us to a dark and morally bankrupt path — the use of abortion as a tool of eugenics.
Once we accept the notion that a child born with Zika-related birth defects is somehow worth less than a "normal" child, where do you draw the line? What about children with Down syndrome or autism? And what happens when scientists more fully map the human genome? Should parents be able to abort a pregnancy because their child is genetically predisposed to be fat or an addict? And once a certain behavior becomes the accepted norm, what's to stop the government from institutionalizing that behavior and making it compulsory? Look no further than the forced abortions that resulted from China's "one-child" policy to see what happens when a society starts deciding one kind of life matters more than another.
It is true that a child born with microcephaly will present his or her parents with unexpected challenges. Speaking as a father of six, that's true of all children. What's also true is that even a child born with birth defects still has the capacity to bring love and compassion and kindness into this world. So I hope that my fellow Floridians will join me in applauding Rubio for not giving in to the radical fringe, for not allowing himself to be browbeat by the cynicism of the media, and for standing up for what really matters most: truth and life.
Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, is the incoming Florida House speaker.