NARAL Pro-Choice America released an ad Tuesday targeting Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) for opposing abortion care amid the battle to fund the fight against the Zika virus.
“Marco Rubio voted against health clinics that provide critical care during this public health emergency,” said the ad, pointing to Rubio’s vote for a GOP-engineered measure that would have given $1.1 billion to fight Zika, underfunding the Obama administration’s target of providing $1.9 billion to combat the virus.
The Republican bill included restrictions on contraception that prompted Senate Democrats to block it in late July.
“Marco Rubio continues to be against a woman’s right to choose an abortion, even if they’re infected with the Zika virus,” the ad said, prompting viewers to call Rubio and tell him “to stop putting his agenda ahead of the health and safety of women and families.”
NARAL will reportedly spend $175,000 to air the ad on television in West Palm Beach and Orlando, according to Politico.
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As Congress reconvenes this week, action on Zika looms as a key issue for lawmakers—and a growing number of voters say Congress should mount a response. Thirty-six percent of the public consider passing funding for Zika a top priority, while another 40 percent say it is an important, but not top, issue, according to a recent Kaiser Health Tracking Poll.
The ad comes during a critical time for Rubio, as he faces re-election after his failed GOP presidential bid.
Rubio suggested to Politico in August that he didn’t support pregnant women seeking abortion care regardless of whether they are infected with Zika, which can cause an incurable fetal brain defect called microcephaly.
“Obviously, microcephaly is a terrible prenatal condition that kids are born with. And when they are, it’s a lifetime of difficulties,” Rubio said. “I’m not pretending to you that that’s an easy question you asked me. But I’m prolife. And I’m strongly prolife. I believe all human life should be protected by our law, irrespective of the circumstances or condition of that life.”
Much of the rhetoric surrounding the response to Zika has used people with disabilities “as a rhetorical device for or against abortion rights,” explained disability rights advocate s.e. smith in a post for Rewire. Rubio’s comments, according to smith, are an example of anti-choice advocates “suggesting that patients with Zika will want to kill their precious babies because they aren’t perfect, and that therefore it’s necessary to clamp down on abortion restrictions to protect the ‘unborn.'”
Rubio told Politico at that time that he had voted for all of the measures he could to fight Zika.
Though the Florida senator has on several occasions broken from his party to support efforts to combat the virus, his push to respond to the crisis has not included extending abortion care to those who contract Zika and may want to end their pregnancy.
“Rubio’s actions are putting women and families in Florida, ground zero for this outbreak, at much greater risk,” Sasha Bruce, NARAL’s senior vice president for campaigns and strategy, said in a Tuesday press release. “Women deserve a full range of health care options, including abortion, not options limited by Senator Rubio’s extreme and out-of-touch political beliefs.”
“This is true always, but especially during a public health crisis,” Bruce said. “Senator Rubio should stop playing politics and do the right thing for the women and families of Florida.”