RICHMOND – Delegate Bob Marshall has demanded an apology over a Capital News Service story that reported comments he made linking abortion and disabled children. But as Marshall’s quotes gained attention on Web sites, blogs and social networking outlets, public outrage grew over his words.
Marshall’s remarks, spoken at a Feb. 18 press conference, drew criticism from Gov. Bob McDonnell.
“I’ve known Delegate Marshall for nearly 20 years, and I’m sure he regrets saying that. I think those are wrong and offensive comments,” the governor said during an appearance Tuesday on radio station WTOP in Washington.
“We should do everything we can for young children that are developmentally disabled and provide the best safety net that we can through state government.”
In a statement posted Monday on his Web site, Marshall, a Republican who represents parts of Loudoun and Prince William counties, expressed regret at any misimpression his “poorly chosen words may have created.”
On Wednesday, Marshall delivered a seven-minute speech from the floor of the House of Delegates, calling the story “slanderous.” He said his comments had been taken out of context.
“The disabled and their families are reacting in part to words I never said, never meant and don’t believe,” Marshall said during the floor speech.
At issue are comments Marshall made at a Feb. 18 press conference to urge the state to cut off funding for Planned Parenthood because the group’s services include providing abortions.
“The number of children who are born subsequent to a first abortion who have handicaps has increased dramatically. Why? Because when you abort the first-born of any, Nature takes its vengeance on the subsequent children. In the Old Testament, the first-born of every being, animal and man, was dedicated to the Lord. There’s a special punishment Christians would suggest,” Marshall said at the news conference.
He then said a Virginia Commonwealth University study showed that first-pregnancy abortions “are much more damaging to the woman than latter abortions.”
The first paragraph of the CNS story paraphrased Marshall’s remarks as calling disabled children a punishment from God for women who have aborted their first pregnancy. The article then quoted his exact comments.
Marshall said the CNS story had twisted his words.
“If some want to make their own inferences, that is their prerogative. However, they should acknowledge that is what they are doing,” Marshall said. “It is no one’s prerogative to claim I spoke words which never came from my mouth, have never been in my heart and have never been in my public record.”
Marshall has posted on his Web site a video and transcript of the Feb. 18 news conference.
The video “speaks for itself,” said Josh Glasstetter of People For the American Way, a liberal advocacy group.
“Marshall explicitly stated that he believes God punishes women who have abortions by giving them disabled children. And then he backed up his claim with what he evidently considered to be evidence.”
A petition calling for Marshall’s resignation was created after his comments gained attention. In less than a week, more than 3,000 people signed the petition.
The Arc of Virginia, an advocacy group for disabled Virginians and their families, issued a statement Monday in response to Marshall’s words.
“The Arc of Virginia is surprised and disappointed by remarks attributed to Delegate Robert Marshall indicating he believes children with disabilities were ‘God’s punishment.’ Such unfortunate remarks continue to lend credence to the stigma people with disabilities and their families are fighting to overcome,” the statement said.
The Arc’s statement went on to quote Marshall’s apology and said the organization “takes him at his word.”
Jeff Caruso, executive director of the Virginia Catholic Conference, also offered a statement in response to Marshall’s remarks.
“The Church teaches that all human life is sacred and all children are a precious gift from God,” Caruso said.