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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Rampant Ableism and Politics

Virginia State Delegate Bob Marshall, a conservative Republican, is in deep trouble for good reason. At a press conference opposing funding for Planned Parenthood he stated the following:

"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 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."

In stating the above Marshall was preaching to a friendly audience composed of conservative Christians and other religious leaders. I listened and watched Marshall's statement. His words are not being taken out of context nor were they poorly constructed. He said what he said and meant it. Children with a disability are God's "vengeance", punishment for previous abortions. This claim is not only false but offensive. Disability representing God's wrath is a belief I would like to think has past into what my son calls the "olden days". Thirty years ago when I began using a wheelchair I was occasionally accosted by religious fundamentalists. Most thought my presence was offensive. More than once I was told that I was the "anti-Christ" or that if I really wanted to walk all I needed to do was pray harder. These comments hurt and drove me from having any connection with organized religion. It also reinforced why I believe strongly in the separation of Church and State.

I am stunned that an elected official no matter how conservative would have the audacity to state what Marshall did. His thinking is so antiquated it is hard to believe people believe such nonsense. Marshall issued an apology, not a very good one, and it is clear he has utterly failed to realize just how hateful his words were. Marshall has a penchant for controversy and has been nicknamed "Sideshow Bob". But Marshall's words transcend bad taste and conservative politics. They are tied to a deeply rooted fear of disability that is pervasive in American society. Disability is inherently bad, something to be feared. Disability is a tragedy and either God or someone else must be held responsible. This line of reasoning is dehumanizing in the extreme. I wonder where the great defender of "special needs families and children", Sarah Palin, is today. I am hardly alone for Penny Richards noted the same thing yesterday. Palin has not spoken out against Marshall or uttered one word of protest. Palin appears to only objects to bigoted remarks when it suits her political ambitions, something some have called Palin's satire clause. No wonder people in the disability rights community have no respect for her or conservatives like Marshall. Our existence, after all, is God's vengeance.


Matthew Smith said...

One of my friends (who has multiple disabilities including SCI) said that she had been accosted by people in the street who told her that her disability was some sort of punishment to her mother. Needless to say, these were total strangers, and for most of the time since she had the SCI, she's lived away from her mother, usually by hundreds or thousands of miles. I can't imagine what's going on in the head of someone who'd say something like that to a total stranger.

As someone who is part of an organised religion, I have to say that I detest people who think they know "why God did this/that", whether it's a hurricane in New Orleans or someone becoming disabled. They never have a clue and are always projecting their own prejudices or political agenda.

william Peace said...

Matthew, My experience with organized religion has been overwhelming negative. Sure I have met a few people who are part of organized religions that are open minded and treat me as they would any other person. But that sort of open minded acceptance is not the norm. You hit the nail on the head when you state people that accost me are projecting their own prejudice. When my son was young felt I should expose him to religion. We went to church and Sundays on a regular basis. One day he refused to go. I asked why and he told me "church is filled with mean people that look at you with pity or scorn". Neither my son nor I have been to church in years. I can commune with God anywhere--I don't need to church filled with bigots to validate my beliefs.

Sadderbutwisergirl said...

I wonder how Bob Marshall would explain my existence as an autistic person. I agree with you wholeheartedly about his dehumanizing remark about disabled children being a "punishment." However, that remark also makes me curious how Bob Marshall would explain my being disabled because I am the firstborn in my family, and therefore under his thinking, am supposed to be dedicated to God and therefore not supposed to be a punishment. Seriously, that is a serious hole in his logic pointed out there.

Matthew Smith said...

Actually, I was also the first born after two miscarriages. I had a thyroid failure which caused developmental delay with some autistic features (partially remedied with thyroid supplements which started when I was five, but a lot of damage had already been done). This guy in Virginia is a dumbass.

I was watching a documentary a while back which featured the mother of Lynn Gilderdale, who was the focus of a major assisted suicide case a month ago involving the mother, who was found not guilty of the most serious charge. The mother had nursed Lynn for 17 years after she fell ill when she was 14. She said Lynn had been very easy to care for, and it had been an honour to spend so much time with her.

Annie said...

Bill, I just wanted to express my anger and sadness over the comments made by this politician and by your experiences over the years.

A significant priest/ethicist I know had the bright idea that fetuses who were found to have various anomalies could be removed from the womb at 22 weeks (just in case their was a mistake) and allowed to mercifully die in their mothers arms. After all, he said "nature can be cruel sometimes." His grand idea was readily accepted and has apparently become quite mainstream over the past 20 years in my country.

Sadderbutwisergirl said...

@Annie: It is appalling that a priest would hold such beliefs about disabled people. Especially if he was one of those who was going on about how mothers have no rights to kill their children in reference to fetuses.

imfunnytoo said...

I stayed away from religion for a long, long, long time...because of such comments.

No one has a better 'radio hot line,' to any God's intent than anyone else...and should keep their mouths quiet.

I find, "God told me to tell you," the second most offensive phrase around.

Some churches drove me away with such comments, too, and the hurt lingers...

This guy is a heaping serving of ignorance and disrespect, and should shut his trap. But of course he won't.