Bob Marshall’s appalling description of disabled children – UPDATED with video of Marshall’s statements

Del. Bob Marshall

Bob Marshall’s Facebook page lit up today with accusations that in 2010 he called children with disabilities “God’s punishment to women who have had abortions.”

Marshall has denied ever using those words, and, indeed, there is no evidence that he used those particular words.

But he admits that he called children with disabilities “nature’s vengeance” and “punishment.”  So, the fact that he didn’t put it together and call it “God’s punishment” is mere semantics.  If the purported “punishment” didn’t come from God, then who did render the “punishment”?  And given that “nature” is not a cognitive being that can make decisions on how to act, just whose “vengeance” are these disabled children?

Marshall shrugs off his statements by saying that he “could have certainly used better words.”  And he points to his legislative record of supporting children with disabilities as if that gives him license to make these kinds of statements about those children.

What matters is that Bob Marshall stands behind the sentiment that if a woman has an abortion and subsequently has a child with a disability, that child is her “punishment.”  His only regret is that he used that particular word.

Marshall is a hero in the pro-life movement, but he doesn’t seem to understand that movement’s most important value:  Every human being has inherent value – including those with disabilities.  No human being is born as his parents’ “punishment.”

As I’ve previously written, 92% of babies with Down Syndrome whose parents learn of the condition during pregnancy are aborted.  More specifically, 6,000 babies with Down Syndrome are born each year, while 69,000 are aborted simply because they’re not “normal.”

So, it wasn’t Bob Marshall’s choice of words that was so offensive.  It was the meaning behind those words and the fact that they perpetuate a myth that is costing the lives of tens of thousands of innocent children.

If Bob Marshall wants to represent all Virginians and wants to promote a culture of life, he should start by recognizing the harm his words did and by offering a sincere and unqualified apology.

UPDATE:  Let’s go to the tape:

  • Doug Knack

    And this comes out, again, on the day he announces as a Senatorial candidate.

    I find it hard to believe his constituents continue to send him to Richmond.

    More unbelievable, folks think he is a good alternative to either Allen or Kaine.

  • I’m treading thin ice here, I know, but to be fair, his comments were only directed at children born after a parent had an abortion already. It in no way whatsoever ever applied to ALL children with disabilities. His statement was based on over 250 peer-reviewed journals that show a correlation between abortions and subsequent disabilities in later children.

    In other words, it is a scientific opinion–based on voluminous research–reduced to rhetoric (and I don’t mean rhetoric in the nuanced sense, but rather in the classical sense).

    “Nature’s vengeance?” This is as much a non-statement as it is an inflammatory one. As Ken pointed out, “nature” is not a cognizant being, it may just as easily be interpreted as the logical consequences of harmfully invasive procedures to the reproductive process.

    Perhaps the phrase “statistical and biological realities are evident” would have been a more accurate choice of words, but would it really have had the same intended effect as a teleological approach to an anthropomorphism of an abstract quality?

  • I’m not entering the discussion about whether abortions lead to a greater risk of disabled children. My point is that there is NO context in which describing a disabled child as “punishment” or “nature’s vengeance” is acceptable.

  • And unfortunately, that was the entire point of his remarks; that the discussion is forgotten amidst his choice of words is a lamentable casualty to the debate.

  • John Jackson

    It seems like your playing semetics yourself. Are you saying that this discussion should not be had? If it is a statistical fact that children born after abortions are likely to have disabilities, what’s wrong with that?

    Sounds completely logical to me. And quoting the bible…OK? and what’s wrong with that also? According to the quote you referenced, I find nothing wrong with either statements.

  • MD Russ


    I would like to see some links to the “over 250 peer-reviewed journals that show a correlation between abortions and subsequent disabilities in later children.” I have read this assertion many times in the past and have never been able to find any substantive studies that weren’t conducted with an obvious anti-abortion bias and published without peer review.

    Junk science is the scourge of honest political debate. If you will recall, two left-wing researchers at Johns Hopkins published a study in the British journal Lancet, conveniently just before the 2006 elections, that claimed that over 650,000 civilian deaths had occurred in Iraq since the US invasion. That study was later repudiated (after the elections) and the authors censured. Similarly, two Harvard Medical School professors released a study at the peak of the debate over ObamaCare that claimed that 45,000 people in the US die every year because of a lack of health insurance. That study was debunked when peer review discovered that the authors had counted everyone who died of any cause who did not have insurance of having died because of the lack of insurance.

    I find it interesting that conservatives who refute such junk science and who can dismiss global climate change as junk science are so quick to accept such preposterous claims as this when it fits with their anti-abortion agenda.

  • @MD Russ. I agree. I am perfectly aware of the capability for human error–even in the peer-review process and scientific method. This is why I stated it was a scientific OPINION (not fact); and why I said “statistical and biological realities are EVIDENT (not proven).”

    I was simply giving the context of his speech.

    It could very well be that there is a correlation between abortions and disabilities in subsequent births. It could be that the correlation is specious. The fact that the discussion has ceased because of his choice of words is, by itself, still very unfortunate.

  • MD Russ


    I think that we are in agreement. Several of us have discussed on BD before the significant difference between correlative and causative relationships. By way of making that distinction, I read one piece a few years ago that stated that women who smoke were far more likely to have an abortion. Therefore, women who smoked before, but not during, pregnancy and had an abortion were more likely to have a subsequent child with birth defects. Huh?

  • Darrell

    Gee willikers, You must have been keeping that hit piece in your desktop Just In Case folder for quick access. What’s next, photos of Marshall and Ron Paul traveling first class together? Signed oaths of party purity? Oh..

    You know the bad thing about McCarthyist style party purges?

    Eventually you run out of party.

  • MD Russ


    No, actually you run out of McCarthy’s long before you run out of party.

    At least Ken is not taking Bob Marshall out of context the way all the other Republicans took Mitt Romney out of context on his “I love to fire people” remark.

  • John Jackson

    Mad Dog,
    The companies did go bankrupt so he should love firing a lot of people cause he got a lot of practice. 😉

    On a serious note, are there any studies that back up Marshall’s comments?

  • MD Russ


    There is no doubt that Bain Capital fired people when they took over struggling companies. I have been a manager/executive in three Fortune 100 companies and never seen one business unit that couldn’t benefit from a 10% lay-off. Typically, an obsolete business model, coupled with a poor product-service mix, and over-staffing is at the root of most business failures.

    However, Mitt’s comment about “I like firing people” was made in the context of allowing consumers to pick and choose their health care provider instead of having a government-mandated single payer. I think that the attacks on him by the other Republican candidates that took his remark completely out of context was every bit as despicable as Debbie Whats-her-name Schultz’s cheap talking point attack. And I find Jon Huntsman’s call for toning down the “toxic” rhetoric to be almost as hypocritical as The Worst of Newt, given the attacks that he made on a fellow Republican and fellow Morman.

    As for your serious note, apparently Andrew hasn’t seen any studies that back up Bob Marshall’s comments any more than I have.

  • MD Russ


  • @MD Russ, I was able to find one such report, though I fear I am unqualified to interpret it properly. Here’s the abstract:

    Objective: To investigate the association between previous abortion and low birth weight (LBW) and preterm birth (PB).

    Method: The study examined live, singleton births using data from the United States Collaborative Perinatal Project. Logistic regression was used to control for obstetric and medical history, and lifestyle and demographic factors.

    Result: Compared with women with no history of abortion, women who had one, two and three or more previous abortions were 2.8 (95% CI 2.48 to 3.07), 4.6 (95% CI 3.94 to 5.46) and 9.5 (95% CI 7.72 to 11.67) times more likely to have LBW, respectively. The risk for PB was also 1.7 (95% CI 1.52 to 1.83), 2.0 (95% CI 1.73 to 2.37) and 3.0 (95% CI 2.47 to 3.70) times higher for women with a history of one, two and three or more previous abortions, respectively.

    Conclusion: Previous abortion is a significant risk factor for LBW and PB, and the risk increases with the increasing number of previous abortions. Practitioners should consider previous abortion as a risk factor for LBW and PB.

    And from the article:

    There was a strong statistical association between abortion and LBW, TLBW and PB after adjusting for race, age, maternal marital status and education, parity, smoking, alcohol and drug dependence, hypertension and diabetes during pregnancy, BMI, weight gain during pregnancy, number of prenatal visits, haemoglobin, infant gender and centre (table 3). Compared with women with no history of abortion, women who had had one, two and three or more previous abortions were 2.76 (95% CI 2.48 to 3.07), 4.64 (95% CI 3.94 to 5.46) and 9.49 (95% CI 7.72 to 11.67) times more likely to have LBW, respectively. Compared with women with no history of abortion, the risk of TLBW to women with one, two and three or more abortions was also nearly three, five and nine times higher, respectively (odds ratio (OR) 2.91, 95% CI 2.51 to 3.37; OR 5.10, 95% CI 4.10 to 6.34; and OR 9.07, 95% CI 6.84 to 12.02). When compared with women with no abortion, the risk of PB was 1.67 (95% CI 1.52 to 1.83), 2.03 (95% CI 1.73 to 2.37) and 3.03 (95% CI 2.47 to 3.70) times higher among women with one, two, and three or more abortions, respectively. As shown in fig 1, the risk of LBW, TLBW and PB increased with the increasing number of abortions, confirming a dose–response relationship.

    Source: J S Brown, Jr, T Adera, S W Masho2. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, vol. 62, no. 1 (Jan 2008): 16-22.

    Have fun.

  • This is pretty ugly.. not the science, the inference that God will punish by imparting disabilities to a child. I have been a fan of Bob for a while but this is a kick in the gut for me. How can anyone who calls themself a social conservative defend this kind of message?

  • Eric

    In the medical world, the term “abortion” is used for both the elective procedure and in reference to a naturally aborted pregnancy (a stillbirth, in lay terms). So did the study cited actually separate elective abortions from natural abortions (stillbirths)?

    I wonder if Delegate Marshall also believes that food poisoning was God’s punishment for me eating at IHOP? Or if catching a cold last week was God’s punishment for not wearing a hat. I wonder what infertility is a punishment for?

    What’s really sad is that Delegate Marshall has a philosophy that does not view people (in this case, handicapped children) as individuals with rights. He sees them as objects…mere tools that a supernatural being uses to exact punishment on those in whom He is displeased.

  • Shallow would be the most applicable and deplorable aspect of Ken Falkenstein’s article. I would not be so harsh save for the qualifications he represents in his bio. As a former USA intelligence analyst and now attorney, he has failed to do his research. Fundamental to his training is knowing your adversary. That would have precluded KF from ascribing motives to Marshall that are entirely inconsistent with the man or his performance. In one measure this is a macaca moment for Marshall. Like in Allen’s case the matter was substantially true, Allen’s provocateur really was an idiot and needed to be challenged. But in our thin-skinned society any miscommunicated idea becomes a cause celebre. If KF knew anything about the faith that Marshall represents in the video he would know that ours is a fallen and corrupted world given to all manner of consequences for the misguided actions of us sinners. Finally, KF’s experiences should tell him that casting aspersions, on either side are generally much easier (and shamefully lazy) than researching the real answer. In reality, as a society we have become too familiar with the practice of calumny.

  • Craig, I think Ken hit it right when he said that there is no way to say that a disabled child is anything less than a blessing, let alone a “punishment” and not come off looking just horrible. Are non-abortion disabilites “punishments” for some other sin? Even he( Marshall) acknowledged that it should have been said better thereby something about what he said wasn’t good. So, why are you still defending it? You can make a statistical case and let the listener make that interpretation if they like.
    And even if you are a supporter of George Allen, why would you defend the “macaca moment”? He looks like an bully and not a statesman, even if you ignore the racial slur.
    “In one measure this is a macaca moment for Marshall. Like in Allen’s case the matter was substantially true, Allen’s provocateur really was an idiot and needed to be challenged.” – Craig Hudgins

    What was substanially true there, Craig? This guy really was a monkey? He was an ebil foreigner trespassin’ on our lands? What? Look at this video and defend it again. Go ahead. Tell us how this was perfectly fine and we’re all just too sensitive. Trackers are a fact of politics, but for some reason, this one got “special” treatment.
    See even here George Allen apologizies for doing something wrong. “Welcome to America, welcome to the real Virginia” Sidarth is and was a US citizen. That was substantially true?

    What I don’t get is why people continue to defend something when even the speaker later admits that poor judgement was made in saying it.

  • Old-geezer


    I learned that one young.

    Do you enjoy reading Bearing Drift ???

    Well the guys need a little bit of money.

    If you’re interested in keeping the postal monopoly alive for a little while longer, you can mail a check (made out to Virginia Line Media) to:

    P.O. Box 16828
    Chesapeake, Virginia 23328

    So brown-bag a couple of days and send your lunch money to Bearing Drift. Or steal $5 from your spouse and send that in. Just send something.

  • Words kill. Facts do not. And presuming to know God’s will is the most dangerous undertaking of man.

    The unfortunate part of this whole fiasco is that, if Marshall had limited himself to the facts, i.e. the studies showing a correlation between abortion and the disabilities of subsequent children, he would have actually served a very useful purpose.

    But by adding his own presumption of vengeance, he instead not only dragged the discussion down to a base, head-shaking level, but defeated what should have been the very purpose of the discussion to begin with.

  • Adding to Tim’s accurate assesment, if Bob had limited himself to the facts and not created concerns about him making alienating comments, he would have been welcomed to speak at the TP rally in Richmond.

    This is regretable though because Bob has been an unrelenting champion for the unborn. If he were to walk it back then likely this would pass.

  • Again, most of the outrage seems to be because they have inferred Del. Marshall to be speaking of God’s Will. Yet, he never said this. We have pointed out above the fallacy of equating correlation with causation. There is another that is just as dangerous: Equating inference with implication. Just because we infer “God” from nature does not mean he implied it as such. Here is his statement on the matter:

    “Actions within Nature are not direct actions of God. It would have been better had I used the words ‘natural consequences’ to convey my meaning.”


    “[The Capital News Service was] using equivocal meanings to the terms Nature and God to make a claim about children and the Creator that I never made and don’t believe.”

    Now, I have my own theological issues with the first part of his first statement, but as I posted earlier, “natural consequences” would indeed have seemed to been less controversial, and this very important discussion would not have been lost amidst the outrage that accompanied his rhetoric.

    The facts are, however, this happened in February of 2010, and he issued his apology that same month. He then went on to win 60% of the vote to get re-elected (only a 1.67% drop from his previous election), demonstrating that his constituents either forgot about this statement or forgave him. Nevertheless, since he is running for a statewide office, he must answer for his statements statewide, as well.

    “No one who knows me or my record would imagine that I believe or intended to communicate such an offensive notion. I have devoted a generation of work to defending disabled and unwanted children, and have always maintained that they are special blessings to their parents. Nevertheless, I regret any misimpression my poorly chosen words may have created as to my deep commitment to fighting for these vulnerable children and their families.” (WaPo, 23 Feb 2010)

    I guess you can call that “shrugging it off,” but it clearly has the operancy of an apology.

  • Andrew- You are giving Marshall an enormous pass that he has not earned. He described these disabled children as “punishment” and “nature’s vengeance.” As I discussed in my post, both of these terms require a cognitive actor. Nature cannot punish or exact vengeance, and the only cognitive being with the power to determine the kind of babies that will be born is God. In fact, Marshall expressly links his characterizations to his interpretation of Christian teachings. So there can be no doubt that his terms were meant to be an expression that God punishes mothers who abort their first-born child by causing their subsequent children to be disabled.

    Reasonable minds can differ on whether an association has been proven by scientific method that there is a correlation between abortion and subsequent children being disabled. I am not weighing in on that issue. My point is that there is NO context in which it is acceptable to describe a disabled child as a parent’s “punishment” or the “vengeance” on that parent of a wrathful God (again, nature cannot exact vengeance – only God can do so).

    Finally, Marshall has NOT apologized. He merely stated that he wished he had chosen “better words” to express these SAME sentiments. And it is the SENTIMENTS that are abhorrent. In fact, by making reference to his legislative record, he implies that as long as he advocates policies to help disabled children he has license to insult them and their parents. That is not an apology. It is the opposite, the AVOIDANCE of apologizing.

    If Marshall truly does not believe that disabled children are a punishment of or vengeance on parents who aborted a prior child, then he should say so clearly and unequivocally, and he should offer a clear and unqualified apology. Until then, he is guilty of perpetuating the myth that disabled children are a burden on their parents, which is the specific reason that 92% of parents abort children like my son Josh.

  • Nah, I’m not giving him a pass. I believe he must answer again for his statements, and I am sure he will. My main point is I do not want the main point to get lost amidst his words, and I think it is inequitable, to say the least, to advance the CNS’s assertion that Marshall said “Disabilities are punishment from God.” Nature and God are not necessarily synonymous. And while you are correct in asserting that vengeance and punishment require an active agent, that is only true in a literal sense. When speaking metaphorically or teleologically, is not license granted to ascribe human (or divine) agencies to an abstract entity? (Logic does not disprove an argument, yet we say it all the time. Also, the scientific method does not prove anything, yet you just gave it that capability.)

    I know this may be semantics, and perhaps I would be more hasty in my criticism if he were of an opposing view.

    From a political standpoint, I grant this is a poor choice of words, and if he does indeed believe that God may punish a child for the sins of the parent, he would have virtually no prospect of winning the office he seeks.

    But from a Biblical standpoint, I wonder how you would explain your positions, (a) that there can be no context in which it is true that an affliction suffered by a child may be God’s punishment for parental sins, and (b) 2 Samuel 12:

    [Nathan to King David]: Why have you despised the word of the LORD, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and have taken his wife to be your wife and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.’ Thus says the LORD, ‘Behold, I will raise up evil against you out of your own house. And I will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun. For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel and before the sun.’”

    David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD.” And Nathan said to David, “The LORD also has put away your sin; you shall not die. Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the LORD, the child who is born to you shall die.” Then Nathan went to his house.

    And the LORD afflicted the child that Uriah’s wife bore to David, and he became sick. David therefore sought God on behalf of the child. And David fasted and went in and lay all night on the ground. And the elders of his house stood beside him, to raise him from the ground, but he would not, nor did he eat food with them. On the seventh day the child died.

  • Steve Vaughan

    I think it’s obvious from Marshall’s subsequent comments that he knows he blundered here. As some one else said, there’s no question about Marshall’s anti-abortion credentials. He was trying to make a point about the risk for disabilities increasing after an abortion (I have no idea if that’s true and it’s not really important to the current discussion)…and by talking about “punishment” that point was lost. If he got a do-over, I’m sure he wouldn’t say it that way.

  • In the video Bob quoted Leviticus clearly stated it’s natures punishment from God.. I have friends across the religious spectrum and so far none of them set well with this.. none.

    As an aside, I am a patriot guard rider member and we talk about a variety of views outside of “missions”.. Our role keeps some fanatics from the fringe aka westboro, from distressing family members of the deceased. Not comparing the words of Bob to Westboro by any means. Will bring this one up next time with an evangelical pgr member who is a retired navy chaplain and report back.

  • Patty

    Ken, from the Christian perspective sin results in suffering, disease and death. God warned Adam not to eat of the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. When Adam and Eve ate from the tree, sin entered the world and death as a result. Just like God said. Think of it as pollution. It affects everyone. The Apostle Paul spoke of this in the book of Romans. Take a look at Romans 8:18-25. Also in Revelation the curse of death and suffering is taken away because of what Jesus accomplished on the cross. See Revelation 21:3-4 and Revelation 22:3-4. To sum up, ever since Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, the fall of man, sin entered the world and death and suffering as a result.

  • Darrell

    If I got this right Macaca=Good, Vengeance=Bad. And Radtke=really, really bad?

    So the only logical answer is to vote for Kaine.

  • Bill Goose

    Regarding why the voters continue to send Bob Marshall back to Richmond, I am not in his district, but seen him operate. He is a very good legislater and seems to do the hard work and constituent services that is needed to be re-elected. He is also able to raise lots of money from outside his district.

  • MD Russ

    “He is also able to raise lots of money from outside his district.”

    And that is a virtue why? Would you be equally impressed with Barack Obama if he was able to raise money from China and France? This is an argumentative position. Foreign campaign contributions are illegal. In my opinion, raising money from people who are not your constituents ought to be just as illegal.

  • Chip Tarbutton

    #Darell….the answer to your question is EW Jackson. He is the most electable, most charismatic and most conservative candidate in the race.

  • Bill Goose

    I am not suggesting that Bob Marshall’s ability to raise money is a virtue. He may not raise an impressive amount for the U.S. Senate race, but for his House of Delegates race he will be well funded if challenged. My point was that one reason he is re-elected is the money because those with it have an easier time winning than those without it. Bob Marshall does have lots of virtues and lots of money, but his money is not a virtue.

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  • Bill Goose

    Any of these abortions are tragic and Bob Marshall would oppose abortion of a baby who is determined to be handicapped. I heard what he said, but the logic of his statements does not mean that he said that all children born with a handicap is a punishment from God. This is like saying that AIDS is God’s punishment to homosexuals. This may well be, but this does not explain the fact that anyone can get AIDS from a number of causes other than homosexual acts.

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