Washington D.C., Aug 11, 2016 / 12:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A small patch of the city of Miami is being called “ground zero” for the Zika virus in the United States, adding fuel to the abortion debate surrounding the disease, which can cause birth defects in unborn children.

"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," Florida Senator Marco Rubio told POLITICO magazine. "But if I’m going to err, I’m going to err on the side of life," he added.

New Zika cases in the area of Wynwood, Miami, have public officials concerned, because they  seem to have been contracted from local mosquitoes rather than from travelling or being in close contact with someone from the Caribbean or Latin America, where the disease has been most widespread.

Public health officials are warning pregnant women to stay away from the area because of the threat Zika can pose to unborn children, particularly those in the early stages of pregnancy. Namely, Zika has been linked with an increased risk for microcephaly, which causes babies to be born with a small head, and, in severe cases, stunted brain development.

"Obviously, microcephaly is a terrible prenatal condition that kids are born with. And when they are, it’s a lifetime of difficulties," Rubio told POLITICO. "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."

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, a pro-life political advocacy group, said in a statement on Monday that Rubio was “absolutely right” to defend unborn children who are at risk due to Zika. “Zika should not be used as a springboard for a search-and-destroy mission against disabled babies,” she said. “Rather, adults, children, and unborn children who are victims all deserve the same standard of care. Killing the patient is not medical treatment and we cannot make advances in medicine if we destroy patients before we find treatments for them.”

“The United States strives to be a beacon for disability rights. To advocate abortion in cases of Zika and other prenatal diagnoses is a major step backwards for the rights of Americans with disabilities and a distraction from the urgent need to develop a vaccine or method to eliminate mosquitos carrying the virus,” Dannenfelser added.   

Despite the latest outbreak, a doctor with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told The New York Times that the United States has a much better chance of containing the virus than some Latin American countries due to better mosquito control, more air-conditioning and less standing water than other countries. At the start of the Zika outbreak, many countries in Latin America issued an advisory cautioning women to avoid pregnancy for up to two years, until the virus is under control.

Abortion is illegal in many countries in the heavily Catholic region. In February, the United Nations issued a statement calling for the repeal of laws and policies “that restrict access to sexual and reproductive health services in contravention of international standards” in Zika-affected countries in order to give women access to abortion and birth control.

Also in February, a Brazilian journalist with microcephaly spoke out against the calls for abortion, saying that it does not “give children a chance to succeed,” and that she was living a “happy and fulfilled life” despite having microcephaly.

On his return flight from Mexico in February, Pope Francis strongly rejected abortion as a response to the fears surrounding the Zika virus outbreak. “Abortion is not the lesser of two evils. It is a crime. It is to throw someone out in order to save another. That’s what the Mafia does. It is a crime, an absolute evil,” the Pope said Feb. 18. “It’s against the Hippocratic oaths doctors must take. It is an evil in and of itself, but it is not a religious evil in the beginning, no, it’s a human evil. Then obviously, as with every human evil, each killing is condemned.”