Does Virginia Delegate Bob Marshall still believe that abortion
causes birth defects? Would he still prefer to call such defects "nature’s consequences"
instead of nature’s vengeance?
Despite his statement
on Tuesday morning that he regrets his "poorly chosen words" it’s unclear
exactly what words Marshall regrets. Is it only that he used the term
"vengeance" instead of "consequence?" That seems to be the obvious conclusion based on interviews given by Marshall on Monday.
The whole issue began on Thursday. A story for Capitol News Service by Virginia
Commonwealth University student reporter Kelsey Radcliffe, who was covering a
press conference sponsored by the Virginia Christian Alliance, quotes Marshall as saying:
The number of children who are born subsequent to a
first abortion with handicaps has increased dramatically. Why? Because when you
abort the first born of any, nature takes its vengeance on the subsequent
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.
Radcliffe was writing for a class in which students provide coverage of the state government for
various media outlets. Although Radcliffe was hardly the only reporter at the
press conference, she was the only one who caught the importance of Del.
Marshall’s statement, which she also
recorded on audio.
The audio was posted on Capitol
News Service’s website on Friday. Yet on Monday, as media attention to his statements grew, Marshall gave interviews to two local
Washington, DC radio stations, WMAL and WTOP, and entirely denied making the comments at all. When asked on WMAL about his statement, Marshall responded with indignation:
No! Look There was a press
conference last week. Are you telling me that the Washington Post, Virginia
Pilot, AP, and some local papers, that their reporters are so ignorant and
stupid that they missed this thing? That a reporter that is a college student happens
to scoop them all and it’s right in front of them. I mean come on. I never said
In an interview recorded later in the day for WTOP he was asked if
the quote was a "mischaracterization." Marshall responded:
Correct. That’s [the reporter’s]
conclusion. She never called me up. No reporter after that press conference
came up to me and said "Bob did you really mean this?" because I didn’t say it.
Marshall did hedge somewhat after the WTOP reporter read
back the exact quote to him. "I don’t know if I said that in that order, but I
did refer to nature’s vengeance, maybe I should have said consequences,"
Marshall said. He went on to denigrate Radcliffe’s
work. "This is some college kid who’s out there playing professional
journalist. Sorry she falls short of your code of ethics."
However caught red-handed when the news of the audio of his
statement surfaced, Marshall’s office released a statement of regret for his
poor choice of words on Tuesday morning.
A story by Capital News Service
regarding my remarks at a recent press conference opposing taxpayer funding for
Planned Parenthood conveyed the impression that I believe disabled children are
a punishment for prior abortions. No one who knows me or my
record would imagine that I believe or intended to communicate such an
offensive notion… I regret any misimpression my poorly chosen words may have
created as to my deep commitment to fighting for these vulnerable children and
Professor Jeff South of VCU, who teaches the class in which Radcliffe is enrolled, said that when he spoke to Marshall on Tuesday morning, the delegate mostly seemed to object to the reporter’s opening
sentence summarizing his statement as birth defects being "god’s punishment." However
throughout Monday while Marshall was denying he ever said the quoted statement he
also was clarifying his exact meaning.
On WTOP he said:
If nature takes its vengeance it’s
not god, it’s just the natural consequence. When you do an abortion of a first
pregnancy you are taking a …gosh I forget what they call these things … anyway
you are taking a muscle that’s tight to hold the pregnancy in place, and you
are rupturing it, you are forcing it to lose the contractual tenacity of the
muscle. This injures the muscle so that in future pregnancies it is not as
strong. It cannot hold the weight as long. That’s why you have significant
problems. This is nature talking to us. Our limits in nature. It’s not God
throwing lightning bolts down on people. We’re doing it to ourselves. The
abortionist’s scalpel simply cannot overcome the limitations of nature.
So on Monday Marshall wasn’t saying it was god that was giving women birth defects
as punishment for having an abortion (despite
his Biblical quote during the press conference) but such defects are a "natural
consequence" of having an abortion.
In his shifting justifications for these remarks, Marshall told Talking
Points Memo reporter Eric Kleefeld that his statements were scientifically, not divinely inspired. Yet medicals studies are quite clear that abortion poses little to no risk for future pregnancies and is not related to birth defects. The Guttmacher
Institute reports that:
Abortions performed in the
first trimester pose virtually no long-term risk of such problems as
infertility, ectopic pregnancy, spontaneous abortion (miscarriage) or birth
defect, and little or no risk of preterm or low-birth-weight deliveries.
Ninety percent of all abortions occur in the first
trimester. In 2006 when Guttmacher released this report there was some
potential for increased risk for second trimester
Some studies suggest that second-trimester
abortion using dilation and evacuation may pose some increased risk of
complications in future pregnancies, such as premature delivery and low birth
weight in future pregnancies (as it does for short-term mortality and
However, advances in the way
second-trimester abortions are performed appear to have reduced complications:
For instance, use of laminaria (a small, rod-shaped piece of dried seaweed),
rather than metal instruments, dilates the cervix more gradually and less
However in terms of mortality, when speaking strictly of risks, abortion is safer than pregnancy, a
point also noted by Media Matters:
The CDC further reported:
"In 2004 (the most recent years for which data are available), seven women
died as a result of complications from known legal induced abortion."
Therefore, the mortality rate for women who died "as a result of
complications from known" abortions was less than 1 out of 100,000 legally
induced abortions. By contrast, the CDC reported
that in 2004, the maternal mortality rate was 11.3 (age-adjusted) or 13.1
(crude or non-age adjusted) per 100,000 live births. This figure includes
540 maternal deaths, 32 of which the CDC identified as a result of pregnancies
"with [an] abortive outcome."