Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) speaks at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C. on Apr. 15, 2015.
Photo by Win McNamee/Getty

Rubio takes a hard line against fetal-tissue research

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) sat down with CNBC’s John Harwood yesterday, and the senator continued to stress his interest in “21st -century” policies. The report noted, however, that the Republican presidential candidate doesn’t believe in climate change; he still opposes marriage equality; and he would ban all abortions, even in cases of rape.
It led to an interesting exchange:
HARWOOD: We need 20th-century social policies?
RUBIO: Well [brief pause], but, for, well, let me tell you this, human life is worthy of protection in every era.
It is a foundational hurdle for the Florida Republican. On the one hand, Rubio, the youngest candidate in the massive GOP field, is preoccupied with talking about the future and the importance of forward-thinking ideas. On the other hand, Rubio is eager to move the nation backwards on many of the social issues he cares about most. The contradiction is at the heart of his entire national candidacy.
Indeed, in the same interview, Harwood pressed for additional details on the senator’s social agenda, asking if Rubio believes fetal-tissue research is wrong. “I do,” the candidate replied.
Asked to clarify further if he sees the scientific research itself as “wrong and immoral,” Rubio responded, “I believe it is,” adding that the research is the “byproduct of the death of an unborn child.”
The answer didn’t come as too big of a surprise – Rubio is very conservative – but it’s emblematic of a larger shift in Republican politics.
Remember, as of a couple of months ago, fetal-tissue research wasn’t on the political world’s radar at all. The potentially life-saving science enjoyed broad and bipartisan support, and when it was authorized by Congress decades ago, the vote in the Senate was 93 to 4.
In the years since, there’s been no organized effort by GOP officials to change the law or curtail the medical research.
But after controversial videos reminded Republicans that Planned Parenthood donates fetal tissue to scientists, the politics changed. Now, presidential candidates oppose both abortion and fetal-tissue research, at least one state is moving forward with a proposed ban on the science; and Rubio has another issue on which he’d like to turn back the nation’s clock.
Indeed, the far-right senator is adding clarity to the larger debate: the GOP’s problem is not with Planned Parenthood, but rather, the medical research that Planned Parenthood is helping facilitate.
Policymakers have a choice. Abortions are already legal in the United States, so it’s up to public officials to decide if fetal-tissue will be discarded or made available to scientists for important medical research.
Rubio believes the nation must go with the former and reject the latter. Don’t be too surprised if this becomes the new litmus-test issue in Republican politics, and his GOP rivals come to the same conclusion.
Disclosure: My wife works at Planned Parenthood, but she played no role in this piece and her work is unrelated to fetal-tissue research.