Autism Unexpected: Bob Marshall, How Dare You Call My Child a Punishment

There are a lot of groups to pick on if you’re a politician, but State Delegate Bob Marshall made a bad choice coming down on disabled children when he called them nature’s punishment to women who have aborted their first pregnancy.

“The number of children who are born subsequent to a first abortion with handicaps has increased dramatically,” he said Thursday, speaking at a press conference to oppose state funding for Planned Parenthood. “Why?” he continued, “Because when you abort the first born of any, nature takes its vengeance on the subsequent children.”

Marshall, a Republican, has since issued more than one statement on his website proclaiming his support for disabled children and claiming that his remarks were misinterpreted by the Capital News Service, which first reported the story with the inflammatory headline, “Legislator: Disabled kids are God’s punishment.”

It is true enough that Marshall never flat-out called disabled kids “God’s punishment,” but in words that no one is disputing, he clearly said that nature takes vengeance on women who have abortions by causing subsequent kids to be born handicapped and then followed those statements up with words about the Old Testament and “special punishment.” (Audio here; for video, go to Marshall’s website.)

Mr. Marshall, I don’t much care that you have reinterpreted your statements after they came under fire. What I do care about is that you told my disabled child—and every other disabled child—that he is a punishment, that he is less than, that he is wrong. You have also told him that his mother is wrong. You have created a situation where someone has to be to blamed for disability.

You say that you have “devoted a generation of work to defending disabled and unwanted children.” I don’t know your record because I haven’t followed your career, but working to defend children starts by accepting them as valued and right. You can’t say in one breath that these children are fundamentally flawed by their mother’s “sin” and then turn around and claim to defend them.

If you really do support people with disabilities, continue your support of health insurance benefits for children with autism, find other ways to advocate for both children and adults with disabilities, but know that you must treat them with respect. Show us with your actions that you really do value this segment of society. Prove us doubters wrong by standing up tall for individuals with disabilities.

And always remember that words hurt—just as your words hurt me and my family. My disabled child has never and will never be a punishment. I value him, love him, and am grateful for his perfect autistic existence every day of his and my life. His being is a gift, and could never be described as “nature’s vengeance.”

Originally published at Autism Unexpected on February 23, 2010.