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Marshall, under fire for abortion comments, receives tribute in autism newsletter

Talk about a coincidence: a nonprofit's newsletter praising Del. Robert G. Marshall's work on behalf of people with disabilities hit mailboxes Friday just days after he was savaged by critics for his remarks on abortion, God and people with disabilities.

Earlier in the week, the Prince William County Republican received withering criticism for remarks that many construed as saying disabled children were God's punishment for abortions. A range of critics -- from fellow Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell to MSNBC political commentator Keith Olbermann -- gave him a drubbing.

Don Shipley, president of the Autism Society of Northern Virginia, said his group's newsletter started arriving at hundreds of homes Friday with an upbeat item on Marshall. The newsletter included a tip of the hat to Marshall--and a photograph of him receiving a gift necktie from the group during an appearance at the group's annual "Walk for Autism" last fall--in honor of his service.

Shipley said the timing of the newsletter put the group in a ticklish situation, given that so many disabled people and their advocates were angry over Marshall's remarks. Yet others were mindful that Marshall has bucked his own party for three years over efforts to mandate insurance coverage for a specialized form of therapy for autistic children.

"We don't want his unfortunate choice of words to overshadow that," Shipley said.


In the end, the Autism Society of Northern Virginia's newsletter went out as planned, but the group also sent a letter to the Prince William Republican expressing its disappointment with his remarks. "The last thing we wanted to do was pile on," Shipley said.

Nancy Mercer, executive director of The Arc of Northern Virginia, said many in disability community also felt conflicted as the controversy churned.

"The unintended consequence of Del. Marshall's speech has been that parents now have another judgement to deal with from the community," Mercer wrote us. "Every parent who has called The Arc since Tuesday of this week has started his/her statement with 'I did not have an abortion and my child has a disability.' Parents of children with disabilities have been given the new Scarlet Letter A to carry around with them--as the larger community dissects Del Marshall's scientific and religious references about the possible cause of a person's disability. The reality is having a disability is not a punishment, being 46th in funding community-based services for people with disabilities is..."

"Bob Marshall's track record and personal life reflect his compassion and commitment for creating "A Life Like Yours" for people with disabilities. Now he has created the opportunity to truly understand what it is like to be a person with a disability or a family member-- experiencing the feelings of being misjudged, alone, and vulnerable to loosing one's place in the community--on a daily basis! It would be nice to see Virginia take the opportunity to learn from Del. Marshall's words and feelings-- create a community where it does not feel like a punishment to have a disability or care for someone who does... "

-- Fredrick Kunkle

By Fredrick Kunkle  |  February 26, 2010; 3:50 PM ET
Categories:  !General Assembly , Fredrick Kunkle , General Assembly , General Assembly 2010  
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