Va. delegate says reports on abortion comments were 'unfair'

Del. Robert Marshall objected to accounts of his remarks on abortion and called for a correction from a news service.
Del. Robert Marshall objected to accounts of his remarks on abortion and called for a correction from a news service. (Steve Helber/associated Press)
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By Fredrick Kunkle
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 25, 2010

Virginia Del. Robert G. Marshall took to the floor of the House of Delegates on Wednesday to dispute reports that he said women who have abortions run the risk of birth defects in later pregnancies as a punishment from God.

As people with disabilities and their advocates continued to criticize Marshall's remarks and call for his resignation, the Prince William Republican addressed fellow lawmakers in an attempt to clarify what he had meant at a news conference Feb. 18 demanding the end of state funding for Planned Parenthood.

Marshall denied saying that disabled children are a punishment from God or even having suggested such a thing. But that notion, he said, "has been repeated endless times in print and in the electronic media without anyone producing the smoking-gun tape."

"Of course, if some wish to make their own inferences, that is their prerogative," Marshall said. "However, they should acknowledge that is what they are doing. Furthermore, 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 also called for a correction from Capital News Service, which is produced by journalism students at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Mass Communications and whose report ignited the controversy. Jeff South, an associate professor who oversees the program, said the service stands by its report.

Since the report ran, Marshall has received a barrage of criticism, including a rebuke by Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) and an emotional floor speech by Del. Robin A. Abbott (D-Newport News), whose son is severely disabled.

MSNBC political commentators Rachel Maddow and Keith Olbermann have also mocked Marshall, while people with disabilities and their advocates have launched an online petition seeking his resignation.

"The disabled and their families are reacting in part to words I never said, never meant, and don't believe," Marshall said Wednesday. "The news accounts repeating this are not fair. But I continue to apologize to families from the fallout over all this."

At the heart of the controversy are varying interpretations of Marshall's remarks on God, abortion and disabled children. At the news conference, Marshall said:

"The number of children who are born subsequent to a first abortion who have handicaps has increased dramatically. Why? Because when you abort the firstborn of any, nature takes its vengeance on the subsequent children.

"In the Old Testament, the firstborn of every being, animal and man, was dedicated to the Lord," he added. "There's a special punishment Christians would suggest -- and with the knowledge that they have in faith, it's been verified by a study from Virginia Commonwealth University -- first abortions, of a first pregnancy, are much more damaging to a woman than latter abortions."

Marshall maintains that he was making the point that scientific evidence supports religious teachings that life -- and particularly the Old Testament's regard for the firstborn -- is sacred and should not be tampered with, or else. Critics have charged him with saying that a woman who aborted her first pregnancy risked having a disabled child as the price of sinning.

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